Using Israeli NSO's Pegasus

UAE used a spyware to surveil activist Alaa al-Siddiq before death

25 Sep 2021
UAE used a spyware to surveil activist Alaa al-Siddiq before death

The Emirati dissident and human rights activist who was killed in a car crash in London was likely to have been spied on using Israeli Pegasus spyware, according to new findings by spyware and surveillance monitor Citizen Lab.

Alaa Al-Siddiq's smartphone, which was inspected by Citizen Lab, revealed that she had most likely been infected with the spyware in 2015 when she was living in Qatar until 2020 while she was living in London, according to a Guardian report on Saturday.

The NSO Group asked The Guardian to supply the number Al-Siddiq was using at the time of the hack, and said in a statement "as always when we get credible information on an alleged misuse, we conduct a thorough investigation and act upon the findings".

Al-Siddiq was unanimously interviewed by filmmaker Laura Poitras and Forensic Architecture, a human rights research group, who gave statements after finding out she had been a victim of Pegasus spyware in 2020.

"These are very sensitive topics to talk about in my country. They consider it as a crime against the government," she said.

"In this case, this kind of violation is not changeable and I cannot protect them," Al-Siddiq added in reference to her phone contacts. "It is a sad thing to feel."

Al-Siddiq, the 33-year-old daughter of an Emirati political prisoner and the executive director of the prominent group ALQST, died in a car crash near London in June following a dinner to celebrate her birthday.

She had defended the rights of political activists, including her father, Mohammad Al Siddiq, who was stripped of his citizenship and is currently jailed in the UAE.

The activist initially received asylum in Qatar, following a campaign of arrests in the UAE against political dissidents from 2011 to 2012.

The case highlights the concerning pattern of the UAE's use of NSO Group's Pegasus spyware on activists and journalists speaking out on human rights abuses in the country, including activist Ahmed Mansoor who is currently serving 10 in prison after being surveilled by the government.

The spyware is able to switch on a phone's camera or microphone and seamlessly harvest its data which was the centre of a media storm in July after a list of roughly 50,000 potential surveillance targets, including journalists, human rights activists, and politicians was leaked to rights groups.