A new investigation into the use of Pegasus spyware to hack Bahraini activists’ devices is adding another notch to the NSO Group’s dismal record of facilitating human rights abuses by oppressive regimes. Access Now reiterates the call for urgent action to hold the surveillance industry and governments accountable.
Following the latest damning revelations of the Pegasus Project, a new report by Citizen Lab and Red Line for Gulf, From Pearl to Pegasus: Bahraini Government Hacks Activists with NSO Group Zero-Click iPhone Exploits, supported by Access Now, discloses how Pegasus spyware was used by the Bahraini government to successfully target nine Bahraini activists between June 2020 and February 2021.
The hacked activists include three members of Waad, a secular political society banned in 2017; three members of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, also banned by the government; one member of Al Wefaq, Bahrain’s largest opposition political society forcefully dissolved and assets frozen; and Yusuf Al-Jamri and Moosa Abd-Ali, two exiled Bahraini dissidents residing in London. Al- Jamri was tortured in 2017 by Bahrain’s National Security Apparatus.
“You can’t be in the business of selling spyware to despots and dictators and claim to care about human rights,” said Marwa Fatafta, MENA Policy Manager at Access Now. “Bahrain is a serial abuser of surveillance tech and has a longstanding history of violent oppression against activists, political dissidents, and civil society. Knowingly selling spyware to this oppressive regime refutes NSO’s whitewashing claptrap. Its human rights record is getting longer and dirtier, and action must be taken now.”
In addition to purchases from the NSO Group, Bahrain has obtained surveillance technologies from international companies including FinFisher, Hacking Team, Netsweeper, Verint Systems Inc, and Cellebrite. The country’s record of repression, surveillance, and censorship earned it the notorious title of “enemy of the internet” back during the Arab Spring protests in 2012. A decade later, its repression has intensified and expanded transnationally thanks to companies like the NSO Group.
“Citizen Lab and Red Line for Gulf have exposed that, despite the multiple scandals and lawsuits, NSO and its customers continue their assault on civil society around the world with individuals hacked as recently as February 2021,” said Natalia Krapiva, Tech-Legal Counsel of Access Now. “We are well past the point where these companies can claim ignorance of abuses and release yet another empty human rights policy. The issue is systemic to the industry and requires complete overhaul.”
From the NSO Group to Cellebrite, Access Now continues to call for transparency and accountability in the surveillance industry.