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Human rights activist issues case against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for alleged use of NSO spyware

A prominent satirist and human rights activist has issued a legal claim in the UK High Court against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia alleging that he was targeted with spyware known as Pegasus, acquired from the NSO Group.

4 November 2019

Ghanem al-Masarir, represented by law firm Leigh Day, is a vocal opponent of the Saudi regime and shares his views through his YouTube channel, the Ghanem Show, which has had more than 200 million views. He alleges in his legal case that the Saudi regime infected his mobile phone with the spyware which allowed them to access his microphone and camera to hear and record what he was doing. The spyware also allows data from the infected device to be modified, extracted and recorded.

Ghanem is bringing a claim for personal injuries resulting from the misuse of private information and harassment in relation to the spyware. He is also bringing a claim relating to an attack he suffered on 31 August 2018 which he believes was directed by the Saudi regime. A letter before action was sent to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in May 2019 but no response has been received.
 
Ghanem has lived in the UK since 2003 and is bringing a claim in the English courts on the basis that he was targeted with the spyware and assaulted whilst he was in the UK.
 
Ghanem began to suspect his phones may have been infected with spyware when he noticed that his phones would not update with latest versions of software, would become very hot and would lose battery life very quickly. His phones were examined by Citizen Lab, renowned world experts on the impact of the use of such spyware..
 
Citizen Lab confirmed that Ghanem had been sent malicious texts containing links that looked like they were from reputable courier companies but, when clicked, led to domains associated with the Pegasus spyware and NSO infrastructure. They concluded with a high degree of confidence that the state responsible for targeting Ghanem was Saudi Arabia. 
 
The NSO Group is an Israeli technology firm working in the field of cyber intelligence which has been implicated in a number of alleged spyware attacks. On 29 October 2019 the social messaging company WhatsApp announced that it was bringing a legal case again NSO Group, accusing them of being behind the targeting of more than 100 political activists, lawyers and journalists through the WhatsApp platform during a two week period in April/May 2019. WhatsApp has been working with Citizen Lab to help identify who and how many people were targeted. 
 
Ghanem was placed under police protection in October 2018 and remains under protection due to a possible threat to his life.
 
Ghanem said:

“The use of spyware to target those speaking out for human rights and freedoms is increasing and many will be unaware that their privacy has been completely shattered. I hope that by bringing this case I can bring this unlawful practise into the light and hold the Saudi regime to account.”
 
Astrid Perry, solicitor at law firm Leigh day, said: 
 
“Ghanem has suffered both physical and psychological harm due to the harassment and loss of privacy he has been subjected to. He believes the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible for this fundamental breach of his rights and he wants to hold them to account for their actions.  
 
“Without the right to privacy there can be no freedom of expression. Governments should not be allowed to invade people’s private lives. The availability of technology created and sold by NSO has a dampening effect on free speech and puts human rights defenders like Ghanem at risk of harm.”

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