AOHR: UN must probe UAE abuses of hacking software

Governments and companies should be banned from selling spyware technology and equipment to the UAE and other countries who use it to target journalists and rights groups, a panel of experts in the cyber security field said yesterday.

In an event organised by the Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK (AOHR), hosted in the parliament, a group of lawyers and professionals working in cyber security discussed hacking and spying programmes by governments including the UAE that target journalists, human rights activists and other dissidents.

The meeting comes after reports that UAE intelligence has been spying on governments, activists and journalists by recruiting former American intelligence operatives to help them hack into the phones and computers of those critical of the Emirati monarchy.

The UAE was found to have targeted the Emir of Qatar, Emirati activist Ahmed Mansoor, BBC host Giselle Khoury and Al Jazeera’s chairman Hamad Bin Thamer Bin Mohammed Al Thani, among many others.

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In spite of these revelations, little has been done by the international community to curtail the UAE’s actions, the experts said, and the Emirates has “continued to clamp down on opponents and human rights defenders, often using materials that have been hacked to imprison and persecute them”. The panel warned about the potential for such surveillance programmes which violate fundamental freedoms in the name of “fighting terrorism and extremism”.

They went on to emphasise the need for accountability, securing the rights of victims of cybercrime and stricter laws and controls by governments over their technology. They called for measures to be put in place to prevent these cyber-attacks from occurring again, in the form of a UN investigation and restrictions on security technology sales.

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