Loujain al-Hathloul, a Saudi activist who fought to end a ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia, is suing the Emirati spyware maker and three former US spies for their role in helping the UAE hack into her smartphone.
On Thursday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed the lawsuit in the US on al-Hathloul's behalf against DarkMatter, a UAE cybersecurity company allegedly involved in targeting human rights activists for surveillance, as well as three former US intelligence operatives – including ExpressVPN exec Daniel Gericke – for “illegally hacking her iPhone to secretly track her communications and whereabouts.”
Gericke, along with two ex-US intelligence operatives Marc Baier and Ryan Adams, was reportedly part of Project Raven, a covert team tasked with building the UAE's Karma hacking system and later moved to DarkMatter.
The Saudi activist claims that the ex-spies were responsible for hacking into her iPhone, which led to her “arbitrary arrest by the UAE’s security services and rendition to Saudi Arabia, where she was detained, imprisoned, and tortured.”
Spyware makers "must be held accountable" for human rights abuses
In 2018, Loujain al-Hathloul was detained by the UAE’s security services and extradited to Saudi Arabia, where she was arrested and sentenced to five years and eight months in prison. During her interrogation in a “secret prison in Jeddah,” al-Hathloul was “subjected to electric shocks, flogging, and threats to rape, sexually assault, and kill her.”
Nominated for the 2019 and 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, Hathloul was released from prison in February due to a suspended sentence. She is currently on probation in Saudi Arabia and is barred from leaving the country for five years.
“As a result of the Defendants’ actions, Ms Alhathloul continues to suffer violations of her fundamental human rights, including severe restrictions on her freedom of movement,” states the lawsuit filed by the EFF.
“Companies that peddle their surveillance software and services to oppressive governments must be held accountable for the resulting human rights abuses,” said EFF Civil Liberties Director David Greene. “The harm to Loujain AlHathloul can never be undone. But this lawsuit is a step toward accountability.”
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