British judge rules dissident can sue Saudi Arabia for hacking Pegasus |  Surveillance

British judge rules dissident can sue Saudi Arabia for hacking Pegasus | Surveillance

A British judge has ruled that a case against the kingdom of Saudi Arabia brought by a dissident satirist who was attacked with spyware can proceed, a decision that has been hailed as a precedent and could allow other hacking victims in Britain to sue foreign. governments ordering such attacks.

The case against Saudi Arabia was brought by Ghanem Almasarir, a prominent satirist who was granted asylum in the UK, who is a frequent critic of the Saudi royal family.

At the heart of the case are allegations that Saudi Arabia ordered Almasarir’s phone hacked and that he was physically assaulted by kingdom agents in London in 2018.

The attack and hacking of Almasarir’s phone by a network likely linked to Saudi Arabia was confirmed by researchers at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, considered among the world’s leading experts in tracking the digital surveillance of dissidents, journalists and journalists. other members of civil society. society.

Saudi Arabia is known as a long-standing client of NSO Group, whose powerful Pegasus hacking software covertly penetrates and compromises smartphones.

Almasarir praised the decision, emphasizing the “profound effect” the kingdom’s alleged attack and spyware has had on his life.

“I don’t feel safe anymore and I’m constantly looking over my shoulder. I no longer feel able to speak for the oppressed Saudi people, because I fear that any contact with people inside the kingdom could endanger them. I look forward to presenting my full case to court in the hope that I can finally hold the kingdom to account for the suffering that I believe has been caused to me,” she said.

The high court judge dismissed Saudi Arabia’s attempt to have the case dismissed on the grounds that it had sovereign immunity protection under the 1978 State Immunity Act.

The Guardian and other media outlets have reported on the Saudis’ previous extensive use of NSO’s Pegasus spyware in cases around the world, including investigators’ findings that the kingdom had targeted a close associate of the Saudis. murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi living in Canada, journalists for the US and Qatari media, and dissidents and human rights activists.

In the ruling, against which Saudi Arabia is likely to appeal, Judge Julian Knowles found that Almasarir’s case could proceed under an exception to the sovereign immunity law that applies to any act of a foreign state that causes personal injury. He also found that Almasarir had provided enough evidence to conclude, on the balance of probabilities, that Saudi Arabia was responsible for the alleged assault. Saudi Arabia’s claim that the case was too weak or speculative to proceed was dismissed.

Almasarir was represented by Ida Aduwa, associate attorney at Leigh Day. “Today’s ruling sets a powerful precedent for other cases brought against foreign governments for the alleged use of spyware on people in the UK. I hope that this ruling will serve as a beacon of hope for those who have been targeted, that foreign governments cannot necessarily hide behind state immunity in these types of cases,” Aduwa said.

The decision could have profound implications for other people targeted or hacked by NSO spyware in the UK.

They include Lady Shackleton and Princess Haya, the former wife of Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. Both were hacked by the Sheikh using NSO spyware during lengthy court proceedings between Haya and her ex-husband in London.

When Pegasus is successfully deployed against a target, it can silently infect any mobile phone, allowing the spyware operator to intercept calls and text messages, including those from encrypted apps such as Signal or WhatsApp. It can track the location of a mobile phone user and also control their camera and recorder, turning the phone into a listening device.

The decision marked an important validation of the Citizen Lab investigation, which has provided evidence in similar cases in other courts, including the Haya case.

Citizen Lab Senior Legal Adviser Siena Anstis said: “The high court’s dismissal of the KSA application is fantastic news for victims of digital transnational crackdown in the UK and represents an important first step in the path to greater responsibility. I also hope that this decision serves as a wake-up call to the US or other jurisdictions where authoritarian regimes can still use state immunity to block these types of cases and leave victims of spyware without judicial recourse.”

Saudi Arabia was represented by Antony White QC and Michelle Butler of Matrix Chambers. White and Butler did not immediately respond to The Guardian’s request for comment.

NSO has also not responded to a request for comment.

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