Human rights defenders call the UK to sanction countries that use hacking technology against dissidents and human rights activists, including Bahrain.
The European Microscope for Middle East issues revealed mounting criticism in the United Kingdom against the British government for refraining from punishing the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain for hacking scandals using Israeli technologies.
The European Microscope, a European institution concerned with monitoring the interactions of Middle Eastern issues in Europe, referred to the initiative of 10 MPs in the British House of Commons to pressure Prime Minister Boris Johnson to blacklist the Israeli company NSO and cutting off funding for the Gulf countries involved in spying scandals.
However, MP Leila Moran, one of the signatories to the initiative, stated that the UK government “has no intention” to hold the UAE and Saudi Arabia accountable for penetrating the phones of British citizens with the Pegasus spyware program manufactured by the Israeli company NSO.
The Liberal Democratic Party’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, Leila Moran, said the government’s stalemate since then would only lead to more lawlessness.
In an interview with the British Middle East Eye website, Moran said: “The government has no intention of holding those Gulf states – Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain – that misuse electronic technology to target and attack opponents on British soil.”
“The government is sending a clear message to these regimes that, despite their abuse, they can continue their activities as usual while ensuring complete impunity,” she added.
About 400 UK mobile phone numbers were found in a leaked list of 50,000 phone numbers identified as potential targets for governments using the Pegasus spyware, including the three Gulf states.
Among these figures are two members of the House of Lords, heads of British think tanks, prominent lawyers, academics, activists and journalists, civil society leaders and Islamic advocates, all connected to the Middle East in terms of activism, interest or nationality.
While the Pegasus scandal was making headlines last summer, the British government revealed that it had repeatedly complained to the Israeli government about the NSO group, though it refused to answer questions about the cause and when of those complaints.
Digital rights advocates have warned that the government’s tepid response to public inquiries and complaints about the Pegasus scandals will lead to more attacks.
In November, a week after the US Department of Commerce blacklisted the NSO Group along with a second Israeli company, Representatives Kanderu, Moran and a group of MPs called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson for his government to follow the US’s lead and suspend all spyware licenses Britain and contracts related to the cyber security of the Gulf states until the whole truth is revealed.
The members also called on the UK government to separate the three Gulf allies from the Gulf Strategy Fund, a taxpayer-financed program worth £53.4 million, which MPs had previously complained about was run without transparency or accountability, mainly since those funds are used to violate human rights in those countries. Countries.
In response to their letter, James Cleverly, who was still Minister for the Middle East before becoming Minister for Europe last week, wrote in a one-page letter in late December: “While the UK does not have the equivalent of listing the company on Blacklist Like the United States, we have a very strong system of export control… We do not issue export licenses when there is a clear risk that the material will be used for internal repression. ”
He stressed that the UK had not granted licenses to the NSO Group, and there are no existing licenses allowing spyware to be exported from the UK.
He added that the UK was “helpful” in persuading the Wassenaar arrangement – a multilateral effort to control the export of technologies with dual civil and military uses – to adopt in 2014 specific controls on spying and surveillance tools, software and equipment.
He concluded his speech by saying that the Gulf Strategy Fund “is subject to a careful assessment of risks to ensure that all businesses meet our human rights obligations and our values,” stressing that the concerned officials “discuss a range of cyber issues with partners and allies.”
Oliver Willy Sprague, head of Amnesty UK’s programme, which covers the military, security and police, said Cleverly’s letter was a “classic response to the so-called smoke and mirror argument” – a term meaning the use of obfuscation or embellishing the reality of the situation with misleading or irrelevant information. And politicians’ justifications that are devoid of substance and logic are often called.
Sprague added that “Israel, not the United Kingdom, is responsible for issuing the export licenses to the NSO Group.”
At the same time, Amnesty International has been pushing the UK to impose conditions in exchange for licensing companies wishing to market the hack within the country, but so far, the NSO Group can promote its spyware at any UK arms fair without restrictions.
He said, “The government is trying to say that there is no problem here because we did not issue an export license to the NSO group as if they are trying to indicate that they are following restrictions like the ones in the United States… But they don’t do anything like that because there are no conditions in return for granting any British license from an Israeli company, and that is the problem.”