Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Controversial spyware company promises to respect human rights…in the future

June 19, 2019

This photo from August 25, 2016, shows the logo of the Israeli NSO Group company on a building in Herzliya, Israel. (AP Photo/Daniella Cheslow)

This photo from August 25, 2016, shows the logo of the Israeli NSO Group company on a building in Herzliya, Israel. (AP Photo/Daniella Cheslow)

Newspapers report that controversial Israeli spyware developer NSO Group will in the coming months move towards greater transparency and align itself fully with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the company’s owners said over the weekend. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/19/novalpina-urged-to-come-clean-about-targeting-human-rights-defenders/]

Private equity firm Novalpina, which acquired a majority stake in NSO Group in February, said that within 90 days it would “establish at NSO a new benchmark for transparency and respect for human rights.” It said it sought “a significant enhancement of respect for human rights to be built into NSO’s governance policies and operating procedures and into the products sold under licence to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

The company has always stated that it provides its software to governments for the sole purpose of fighting terrorism and crime, but human rights defenders and NGOs have claimed the company’s technology has been used by repressive governments to spy on them. Most notably, the spyware was allegedly used in connection with the gruesome killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year and whose body has never been found.

Last month London-based Amnesty International, together with other human rights activists, filed a petition to the District Court in Tel Aviv to compel Israel’s Defense Ministry to revoke the export license it granted to the company that Amnesty said has been used “in chilling attacks on human rights defenders around the world.”

On Friday the Guardian reported that Yana Peel, a well-known campaigner for human rights and a prominent figure in London’s art scene, is a co-owner of NSO, as she has a stake in Novalpina, co-founded by her husband Stephen Peel. Peel told the Guardian she has no involvement in the operations or decisions of Novalpina, which is managed by my husband, Stephen Peel, and his partners and added that the Guardian’s view of NSO was “quite misinformed.”

And Citizen Lab is far from re-assured:  https://citizenlab.ca/2019/06/letter-to-novalpina-regarding-statement-on-un-guiding-principles/…

https://www.timesofisrael.com/controversial-nso-group-to-adopt-policy-of-closer-respect-for-human-rights/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/18/whatsapp-spyware-israel-cyber-weapons-company-novalpina-capital-statement

Beyond WhatsApp and NSO – how human rights defenders are targeted by cyberattacks

May 14, 2019

Several reports have shown Israeli technology being used by Gulf states against their own citizens (AFP/File photo)

NSO Group has been under increased scrutiny after a series of reports about the ways in which its spyware programme has been used against prominent human rights activists. Last year, a report by CitizenLab, a group at the University of Toronto, showed that human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain were targeted with the software.

In October, US whistleblower Edward Snowden said Pegasus had been used by the Saudi authorities to surveil journalist Jamal Khashoggi before his death. “They are the worst of the worst,” Snowden said of the firm. Amnesty International said in August that a staffer’s phone was infected with the Pegasus software via a WhatsApp message.

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Friedhelm Weinberg‘s piece of 1 May is almost prescient and contains good, broader advice:

When activists open their inboxes, they find more than the standard spam messages telling them they’ve finally won the lottery. Instead, they receive highly sophisticated emails that look like they are real, purport to be from friends and invite them to meetings that are actually happening. The catch is: at one point the emails will attempt to trick them.

1. Phishing for accounts, not compliments

In 2017, the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, documented what they called the “Nile Phish” campaign, a set of emails luring activists into giving access to their most sensitive accounts – email and file-sharing tools in the cloud. The Seoul-based Transitional Justice Working Group recently warned on its Facebook page about a very similar campaign. As attacks like these have mounted in recent years, civil society activists have come together to defend themselves, support each other and document what is happening. The Rarenet is a global group of individuals and organizations that provides emergency support for activists – but together it also works to educate civil society actors to dodge attacks before damage is done. The Internet Freedom Festival is a gathering dedicated to supporting people at risk online, bringing together more than 1,000 people from across the globe. The emails from campaigns like Nile Phish may be cunning and carefully crafted to target individual activists.. – they are not cutting-edge technology. Protection is stunningly simple: do nothing. Simply don’t click the link and enter information – as hard as it is when you are promised something in return.

Often digital security is about being calm and controlled as much as it is about being savvy in the digital sphere. And that is precisely what makes it difficult for passionate and stressed activists!

2. The million-dollar virus

Unfortunately, calm is not always enough. Activists have also been targeted with sophisticated spyware that is incredibly expensive to procure and difficult to spot. Ahmed Mansoor, a human-rights defender from the United Arab Emirates, received messages with malware (commonly known as computer viruses) that cost one million dollars on the grey market, where unethical hackers and spyware firms meet. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/08/29/apple-tackles-iphone-one-tap-spyware-flaws-after-mea-laureate-discovers-hacking-attempt/]

Rights defender Ahmed Mansoor in Dubai in 2011, a day after he was pardoned following a conviction for insulting UAE leaders. He is now in prison once more.

Rights defender Ahmed Mansoor in Dubai in 2011. Image: Reuters/Nikhil Monteiro

3. Shutting down real news with fake readers

Both phishing and malware are attacks directed against the messengers, but there are also attacks against the message itself. This is typically achieved by directing hordes of fake readers to the real news – that is, by sending so many requests through bot visitors to websites that the servers break down under the load. Commonly referred to as “denial of service” attacks, these bot armies have also earned their own response from civil society. Specialised packages from Virtual Road or Deflect sort fake visitors from real ones to make sure the message stays up.

 

A chart showing how distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks have grown over time.

How distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks have grown. Image: Kinsta.com; data from EasyDNS

Recently, these companies also started investigating who is behind these attacks– a notoriously difficult task, because it is so easy to hide traces online. Interestingly, whenever Virtual Road were so confident in their findings that they publicly named attackers, the attacks stopped. Immediately. Online, as offline, one of the most effective ways to ensure that attacks end is to name the offenders, whether they are cocky kids or governments seeking to stiffle dissent. But more important than shaming attackers is supporting civil society’s resilience and capacity to weather the storms. For this, digital leadership, trusted networks and creative collaborations between technologists and governments will pave the way to an internet where the vulnerable are protected and spaces for activism are thriving.

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Right-wing Nationalism Undermines Human Rights work by UN

May 12, 2019

Under the title “Rise of Right-wing Nationalism Undermines Human Rights Worldwide”

The rise of right-wing nationalism and the proliferation of authoritarian governments have undermined human rights in several countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. As a result, some of the international human rights experts – designated as UN Rapporteurs – have either been politically ostracized, denied permission to visit countries on “fact-finding missions” or threatened with expulsion, along with the suspension of work permits.

The Philippines government, a vociferously authoritarian regime, has renewed allegations against Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteurs on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/02/duterte-there-is-no-war-on-human-rights-defenders-only-on-criminals/]

…Anna-Karin Holmlund, Senior UN Advocate at Amnesty International, told IPS “We have witnessed several deeply worrying personal attacks by UN Member States against the independent experts, including personal attacks, threats of prosecution, public agitation and physical violence in the past year”…

Meanwhile, the Government of Burundi has closed down the UN Human Rights Office triggering a protest from Michelle Bachelet, the UN Human Rights Commissioner in Geneva. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/07/final-step-burundi-closes-down-un-office/ ]

And under the Trump administration, the US has ceased to cooperate with some of the UN Rapporteurs, and specifically an investigation on the plight of migrants on the Mexican border where some of them have been sexually assaulted—abuses which have remained unreported and unprosecuted. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/16/us-ngos-react-furiously-to-visa-restrictions-imposed-on-icc-investigators-by-trump-administration/]

The government of Myanmar has barred a UN expert from visiting the country to probe the status of Rohingya refugees.

In March, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Diego García-Sayán, postponed an official visit to Morocco because the government “has not been able to ensure a programme of work in accordance with the needs of the mandate and the terms of reference for country visits by special procedures.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/21/special-rapporteur-diego-garcia-sayan-not-swayed-by-moroccan-assurances-for-his-visit/]

Referring to the situation in Colombia, Robert Colville, Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said May 10: “We are alarmed by the strikingly high number of human rights defenders being killed, harassed and threatened in Colombia, and by the fact that this terrible trend seems to be worsening”…

And last month, Israel revoked the work permit for Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine Director of Human Rights Watch, prompting a protest from the United Nations……According to a report in the New York Times March 10, Leilana Farha, the UN Special Envoy for Housing was “shocked” to discover that some of the Egyptians she interviewed in Cairo’s poor areas “had suffered reprisals for talking to her.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/18/israel-deportation-of-human-rights-watchs-staff-member-again-on-the-table/%5D

..

Urmila Bhoola of South Africa, Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, told IPS she has visited Niger, Belgium, Nigeria, El Salvador, Mauritania, Paraguay and, lastly Italy, in October 2018. She pointed out that “country visits are only conducted upon invitation from governments”. “I have issued requests for country-visits to many countries but due to the mandate’s name and focus, member states are often reluctant to invite the mandate on contemporary forms of slavery, to conduct a visit”. In this sense, she pointed out, member states may not openly refuse a visit but may not reply to country visit requests….

http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/05/rise-right-wing-nationalism-undermines-human-rights-worldwide/

 

Israel: Deportation of Human Rights Watch’s staff member again on the table

April 18, 2019

The sea-saw surrounding Omar Shakir of Human Rights Watch’ office [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/04/27/human-rights-watch-granted-israeli-work-permit-in-the-end/] continues with an Israeli court on 16 April 2019 upholding the Israeli government’s order to deport Omar Shakir, the Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine director. The ruling by the Jerusalem District Court comes in response to a lawsuit filed in May 2018 by the organization, and Shakir challenging the government’s decision to revoke Shakir’s work permit and the constitutionality of a 2017 law barring entry to Israel for people who advocate so-called boycotts of Israel or Israeli settlements.

UN Rapporteurs intervene again for Palestinian human rights defender Issa Amro

April 11, 2019

Israel must fully honour and implement the rights and obligations contained in the UN’s Declaration on human rights defenders, and in particular end the use of criminal, legal and security tools to obstruct the legitimate work of human rights defenders, say two UN rapporteurs: Michael Lynk, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory and Michel Forst, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders .

Their comments come on 11 April 2019 after the latest hearing on 7 April in the case of Issa Amro, a human rights defender and founder of Youth Against Settlements, a Hebron-based group which seeks to end settlement expansion through non-violent civil resistance. “Israel must provide for the protection of human rights defenders in the context of their work and ensure that, if charged with any offence, their right to a fair trial is respected,” said the Rapporteurs “The case of Issa Amro is emblematic of the sophisticated array of obstacles faced by Palestinian human rights defenders who engage in non-violent activities.

Cracking down on individuals whose work is essential to denouncing violations and creating safe and peaceful societies, sends a troubling message that the Israeli authorities make little effort to abide by international human rights standards, including the right to a fair trial.

We are very concerned that in January 2019 Israel did not renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), an international observer force that was instrumental in efforts to avoid violence – a decision which led to a group of human rights defenders, including Issa Amro, deciding to accompany children to school.”

The UN experts also expressed deep concern about the repressive working environment faced by Palestinian human rights organisations in recent years.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/08/14/five-un-experts-urge-israel-to-stop-harassment-of-human-rights-activist-issa-amro/ and https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/issa-amro

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO1904/S00078/israel-must-ensure-protection-for-issa-amro.htm

Film on Human Rights Defender Lea Tsemel wins Thessaloniki International Festival

March 13, 2019

 reports on 11 March, 2019 that a documentary about an Israeli human rights lawyer has won the top prize in its category at the Thessaloniki International Festival. “The Advocate,” a 108-minute film directed and produced by Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaiche, focuses on Lea Tsemel, who has defended Palestinians of every stripe, from protesters to known extremists, for more than 50 years. The Canadian-Israeli-Swiss production was given the “Golden Alexander Award” Sunday night.

A special jury award was given to Afghan director Hassan Fazili for the autobiographical “Midnight Traveler” which was actually filmed by his whole family. He, his wife and two daughters were forced to flee the country when the Taliban put a bounty on Fazili’s head. They first went to Tajikistan and, threatened with deportation, journeyed all the way to Europe.

https://www.thenationalherald.com/234482/winning-documentary-in-thessaloniki-portrays-israeli-human-rights-lawyer/

Novalpina urged to come clean about targeting human rights defenders

February 19, 2019

In an open letter released today, 18 February 2019, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and five other NGOs urged Novalpina to publicly commit to accountability for NSO Group’s past spyware abuses, including the targeting of an Amnesty International employee and the alleged targeting of Jamal Khashoggi. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/08/29/apple-tackles-iphone-one-tap-spyware-flaws-after-mea-laureate-discovers-hacking-attempt/]

Danna Ingleton, Deputy Director of Amnesty Tech, said: “Novalpina’s executives have serious questions to answer about their involvement with a company which has become the go-to surveillance tool for abusive governments. This sale comes in the wake of reports that NSO paid private operatives to physically intimidate individuals trying to investigate its role in attacks on human rights defenders – further proof that NSO is an extremely dangerous entity.

We are calling on Novalpina to confirm an immediate end to the sale or further maintenance of NSO products to governments which have been accused of using surveillance to violate human rights. It must also be completely transparent about its plans to prevent further abuses.

This could be an opportunity to finally hold NSO Group to account. Novalpina must commit to fully engaging with investigations into past abuses of NSO’s spyware, and ensure that neither NSO Group nor its previous owners, Francisco Partners, are let off the hook.”

The signatories to the letter are:

  • Amnesty International
  • R3D: Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales
  • Privacy International
  • Access Now
  • Human Rights Watch
  • Reporters Without Borders
  • Robert L. Bernstein Institute for Human Rights, NYU School of Law and Global Justice Clinic, NYU School of Law

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/02/spyware-firm-buyout-reaffirms-urgent-need-for-justice-for-targeted-activists/

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/research/2019/02/open-letter-to-novalpina-capital-nso-group-and-francisco-partners/

Poland and Israel: human rights defenders not welcome

May 9, 2018

For those who think that muzzling human rights defenders is an exclusively non-western affair, look at these examples: Poland and Israel.

On 9 May 2018 Katharina Rall, environment researcher at Human Rights Watch, critically looks at Poland‘s efforts to hamper the freedom of expression and demonstration by human rights defenders at the forthcoming climate summit, known as the COP24. It will bring together state parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and thousands of experts, journalists, businesses and nongovernmental groups.  UN experts cite concerns about the ban on spontaneous assemblies in Katowice during the talks, which will make it difficult for groups to respond to developments at the negotiations. In a letter sent to the Polish government last month they said that by “curtail[ing] the possibility of spontaneously expressing views about the unfolding of the climate talks and organizing peaceful assemblies to this effect”, the new law appears to go beyond the rights restrictions necessary to ensure security and safety at the conference. The UN experts also noted that the law “appears to give sweeping surveillance powers to the police and secret services to collect and process personal data about all COP24 participants”. This is a serious issue for the safety of climate activists at the summit. [The Polish government has yet to respond to the UN rights experts. But a reply from the Polish environment minister to similar concerns raised by the Bureau of the Aarhus Convention, a regional human rights and environmental body, has done little to dispel them.]

Just the day before, 8 May 2018, AP reported that Israel’s Interior Minister, Arieh Deri, has ordered the head of the local office of Human Rights Watch to leave the country within 14 days for allegedly supporting boycotts of Israel. HRW responded that it stands by Omar Shakir, a U.S. citizen of Iraqi descent, and accused Israel of trying to muzzle criticism of its human rights record. It says neither it nor Shakir support boycotts, and that it will challenge the decision in court. Iain Levine, a Human Rights Watch official, says Israel’s actions, such as compiling a dossier on Shakir, and “deporting human rights defenders is a page out of the Russian or Egyptian security services’ playbook.” [In April last year his appointment had already let to controversy, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/04/27/human-rights-watch-granted-israeli-work-permit-in-the-end/]

http://news.trust.org//item/20180509072953-izwk3/

https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/israel-expel-human-rights-watch-rep-boycott-claims-55019948

Israel bars human rights lawyers from the USA

May 4, 2018

Two U.S. human rights lawyers were detained Sunday 29 April 2018 for 14 hours at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport before being deported back to the United States. Columbia University’s professor of law, gender and sexuality studies Katherine Franke and Center for Constitutional Rights’ executive director Vincent Warren were repeatedly questioned about their associations with groups critical of Israel. They were part of a delegation of American human rights defenders heading to Israel and Palestine to learn about the human rights situation and meet with local activists. They arrived back in New York City early Monday. Hear the interview with Vincent Warren and Katherine Franke via:

Egypt: the ‘foreign-funding’ accusation against human rights defenders goes in overdrive

April 3, 2018

An Egyptian lawyer, Samir Sabry, has requested the Attorney General to bring human right defender Asmaa Mahfouz to court. The reason? Winning the Sakharov Prize in 2011! If Egypt Today had reported it a day earlier (on 1 April), I would have credited it as a good April 1st spoof, but unfortunately it is not. In his complaint, Sabry called for the Attorney General to transfer Mahfouz to a Criminal Court trial and ban her from travelling outside the country. He stated that the prize, worth €50,000  was given to her suddenly, and he did not know why. He asked whether it is funding, a reward, or for certain service, and what the reason is for this award. The complaint from Sabry also claimed that this is a Jewish award [SIC} and questions the award’s links to Zionism. According to Sabry, the answer is that Mahfouz received the prize money, and accepted the award, in return for betraying Egypt.

Asmaa Mahfouz was one of the founding members of the April 6 Youth Movement, which sparked nation-wide demonstrations in April 2008 and was indeed awarded the Sakharov prize in 2011 (sharing it with four other Arab figures).

The prize in question is the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought [http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/sakharov-prize-for-freedom-of-thought], which is of course is not granted by Israeli but by the European Parliament!

However, the issue of foreign funding is a major one in the Egyptian context as demonstrated by the case of two Egyptian woman human rights defenders in the ‘NGO foreign-funding case” (as ISHR reminds us on 29 March 2018):  harassed and targeted Egyptian woman defenders Azza Soliman and Mozn Hassan [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/02/right-livelihood-has-to-go-to-egypt-to-hand-mozn-hassan-her-2016-award/] face life imprisonment if their cases are brought to trial simply for conducting legitimate human rights work.

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