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24 Sep 2021

Stephanie Kirchgaessner, The Guardian

New evidence suggests NSO spyware used to surveil Emirati activist Alaa Al-Siddiq

No foul play is suspected in [33-year-old Emirati activist Alaa Al-Siddiq's] death, which occurred after a two-car collision in which people in both vehicles were injured.

But now, three months after her death, new evidence has emerged about an intense and pervasive campaign to surveil Al-Siddiq, who served as executive director of ALQST, a non-profit advocating for human rights in the UAE and wider region.

An examination of Al-Siddiq’s devices by researchers at Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, which tracks the use of spyware against activists and journalists, found that she was most likely hacked by a government client of NSO Group, the Israeli spyware company, beginning in 2015, when she lived in Qatar, to 2020, when she was living in London. It is the first time Citizen Lab has confirmed its findings.

The case exemplifies a worrying trend for activists such as Al-Siddiq, who escaped the UAE to live in the relative safety of the UK, but was never out of the reach of Pegasus, NSO’s spyware...

NSO has said its spyware is meant to be used by governments and law enforcement agencies to investigate serious crimes, not to target journalists and activists.

NSO requested that the Guardian provide it with the numbers Al-Siddiq was using when she was hacked.

It 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.”