Saudi Arabia allegedly recruited Twitter employees to spy on users. That's just one of many ways Saudi agents use tech tools to spy on critics.
- The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia reportedly uses hacks, social media surveillance, and spies to keep tabs on dissidents, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.
- An alleged instance of this global spying operation surfaced earlier this week, when federal prosecutors charged two former Twitter employees with snooping on users on behalf of Saudi Arabia.
- The Kingdom reportedly used surveillance tech to hack online accounts of dissidents, installed spyware on critics' phones, and steered online harassment campaigns against its adversaries.
- The report of Saudi Arabia's alleged online spying and harassment comes at a time when the Kingdom is becoming a heavy-hitter in tech funding, pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into Silicon Valley startups.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Saudi Arabia is reportedly weaponizing big tech to carry out surveillance and smear campaigns against dissidents and critics.New reports this week shed light on Saudi Arabia's alleged efforts to quash dissent using big tech. On Wednesday, Federal prosecutors charged two former Twitter employees with spying on users on behalf of the Saudi government. And earlier this week, Human Rights Watch published a report detailing the broader methods Saudi Arabia uses for surveillance and harassment online.Advertisement
The reports build on previous allegations that Saudi Arabia has tracked down its critics online at the behest of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. A 2018 report by Citizen Lab found that a Saudi activist's phone was targeted with spyware, and other activists have come forward to report similar hacking.
Prince Mohammed's alleged vindictiveness towards critics has at times led to violence - the CIA determined that he likely ordered the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.But publicly, Saudi Arabia is a rising power-player in Silicon Valley, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into startups and venture capital funds like Softbank's Vision Fund, which funded WeWork, Slack, Wag, and Doordash. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that a Saudi-backed fund pumped $400 million into CloudKitchens, the new startup from Uber founder Travis Kalanick.
Here's a rundown of the ways Saudi Arabia is allegedly using big tech to surveil and retaliate against critics.
Saudi Arabia reportedly used "commercially available surveillance technologies" to install spyware on dissidents' phones.
According to a Citizen Lab study, Saudi Arabia used a spyware known as Pegasus, sold by the Israeli firm NSO group.Advertisement
Pegasus spyware essentially makes everything on a phone accessible.
Multiple other Saudi dissidents say they've been targeted by Pegasus hacks .Advertisement
Saudi officials also reportedly used their public Twitter accounts to harass dissidents using the hashtag "#The_Black_List."
The hashtag was started by Saud al-Qahtani, the Saudi government's former director of cybersecurity, using his official Twitter account.Advertisement
Dissidents have previously speculated that the Saudi government is able to unmask anonymous accounts — a theory that's become more credible with the spying charges involving two former Twitter employees.
The alleged online spying and harassment ramped up following Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's rise to power, according to Human Rights Watch.Advertisement
The Human Rights Watch report recommends that Twitter and other tech companies investigate possible spying and advocate for the release of dissidents detained for criticizing Saudi Arabia.
- Proactive screening helped curb Dharavi's COVID-19 spread: BMC
- Maha: COVID-19 cases go past 800 in Amravati
- Meghalaya reports highest single-day spike of 76 COVID-19 cases; total rises to 312
- Apple working with Foxconn for AR headset lenses: Report
- Everyone will have to adjust to new normal: Arjun on resuming work amid COVID-19 pandemic