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Human Rights Watch: NGO Accuses Saudi Arabia of Spying on Citizens

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First Posted: Jun 28, 2014 04:31 PM EDT
Saudi Arabia
(Photo : Pixabay/tpsdave)

Human Rights Watch on Saturday claimed that the Saudi Arabian government has been using a spyware app to monitor political dissidents on their mobile phones, according to a report from RT.

The international nongovernmental organization, which monitors human-rights infringements, bases its claim on information gathered by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, the report said.

Citizen Lab said the virus had been embedded in a legitimate news app for Qatif Today, an Arabic-language news service that reports on Saudi Arabia's eastern Qatif region, RT said. The spyware is being used to spy on political activists in the country, according to Human Rights Watch.

"We have documented how Saudi authorities routinely crack down on online activists who have embraced social media to call out human rights abuses," Human Rights Watch senior Internet researcher Cynthia Wong said. "It seems that authorities may now be hacking into mobile phones, turning digital tools into just another way for the government to intimidate and silence independent voices."

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According to the RT report, once a mobile phone is infected with the virus, it allows a third party to access the phone's text messages, emails, call history, contacts and files from social media applications. The spyware can also be used to turn on the phone's camera and microphone to record conversations.

Human Rights Watch claims that Italian firm Hacking Team created the spyware.

The organization also suspects that since the virus was allegedly embedded into the Qatif news website, the Saudi government is targeting people in Qatif interested in current affairs and politics. Qatif is majority Shia, and residents have claimed the Saudi Arabian Sunni majority has discriminated against them, RT reports.

Qatif has been a site of ongoing protests against the government and has a history of government repression of dissent, Human Rights Watch says.

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