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Espionage and piracy, unsafe environment for media freedoms in Bahrain

The Gulf Group for Monitoring Freedoms and Press (Red Line) reviewed the reality of the unsafe environment for media freedoms in Bahrain in light of the espionage violations.

The group said that the Al-Khulaifi regime spends huge sums of money to spy on Bahrain’s citizens and circulate media information or for other espionage purposes.

It stated that to provide a high quality of this espionage operation, the Bahraini government contracted with the largest spyware operator to purchase this software and operate it in tracking the activities of media and political activists.

Despite the exposure of the Bahraini government’s illegal espionage, the Manama authorities continued to develop espionage tools and expand the area they targeted, whether inside or outside Bahrain.

The Bahraini government is not afraid of the exposure of its actions against the ethics of citizenship. It views the spread of news about its targeting of personal freedoms or its power to monitor some public figures as an opportunity to send messages that suggest its ability to pursue and tighten the tools of control and abuse.

The historical narrative reveals a significant development in mastering the process of spying on Freedom in Bahrain, whether in terms of the high financial cost or in terms of partners who sell espionage services, and finally, a diversity of victims and targets by surveillance and espionage.

In 2012, Citizen Lab at the Canadian University of Toronto published evidence that Gamma International, a multinational technology company with offices worldwide, was selling a malware called FinFisher to Bahrain.

At that time, technical investigations revealed the company’s involvement in helping the intelligence services (the National Security Service) by spying on more than 70 political and media figures and hacking their devices (phones/computers).

According to specialists, the program’s cost exceeds $150 million, without talking about other services that are added to the operating bill, such as training, maintenance and development.

In August 2014, anonymous material was published on the Internet indicating that at the same time, Gamma Corporation denied that it sold FinFisher to Bahrain.

The company has already provided the software to Bahrain and has been actively involved in providing Bahraini authorities with extensive technical assistance and advice about this malicious software.

However, the Bahraini government did not stop searching for new partners more effective than the Gamma company, as human rights investigations show that the Bahraini government has invested millions of dollars in purchasing spyware and tracking software from the Israeli company Pegasus since 2017.

It is noteworthy that the Pegasus program is an Israeli program, which the company claims to sell to governments to fight crime and terrorism.

However, it has been used repeatedly by governments accused of human rights abuses, and Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was one of its victims.

The latest reports of spying on Freedom show that the Bahrain government is spying even on loyal people and members of the House of Representatives, in addition to members of the ruling family and other personalities, whose number is estimated at about 20.

Commenting on the recent report published by the Red Line Organization, it can be said, without confirming my information, that the interests of the Bahraini government in the digital transformation supervised by the Crown Prince have provided a new opportunity to increase the implementation of spying on Freedom and tracking people.

It is not excluded that the Crown Prince has shown a special interest in such spyware and seeking to obtain them.

Perhaps conspiracy phobia is one of the motives behind the gluttony of buying spyware on Freedom. If this reasoning is valid, it can explain espionage targeting figures classified as loyal to the ruling elite or the ruling elite itself. Since 2017, the Crown Prince has been battling multiple wings and fighting internal battles to establish himself.

Whatever the path of reasoning, analysis, and search for the party behind the investment in espionage technologies under the title of digital transformation, it has produced an unsafe environment for media and personal freedoms, and no one in Bahrain can get rid of the fear of surveillance and espionage.

As for the more serious matter, it is the consequences of spying on personal data and the possibility of using it to blackmail activists and media professionals.

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