Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul says phone hack by US contractors led to her arrest


Prominent Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul has sued three former United States intelligence contractors, accusing them of hacking her cell phone leading to her 2018 arrest and imprisonment.

Ms. al-Hathloul spent years in prison as she helped lead a campaign to allow Saudi Arabian women to drive by live-streaming herself violating the ban, which was lifted in 2018. She is currently banned from leaving her country.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation on Thursday filed the lawsuit on behalf of al-Hathloul in the US federal court in Oregon against former US officials Marc Baier, Ryan Adams and Daniel Gericke.

It alleged that the surveillance operation run by the three former contractors and Dark Matter, a United Arab Emirates cyber-security company, led to Ms. al-Hathloul’s arrest by the UAE’s security services.

From there she was extradited by private plane to Saudi Arabia, “where she was detained, imprisoned and tortured”, according to the lawsuit.

A 2019 Reuters investigation, cited by the lawsuit, revealed that Ms. al-Hathloul was targeted in 2017 by a team of US mercenaries who surveilled dissidents on behalf of the UAE under a programme called Project Raven, which categorised her as a national security threat and hacked into her iPhone.

Ms. Al-Hathloul said that as she was tortured, interrogators mentioned communications they apparently learned of through “unlawful access” to her phone, according to the lawsuit.

Saudi officials have denied torturing Ms. al-Hathloul and say she received a fair trial. A request for comment to the Saudi and Emirati embassies in Washington was not immediately answered.

In a separate settlement with US federal prosecutors in September, for hacking charges, the three former US intelligence contractors Baier, Adams and Gericke admitted to conducting surveillance operations on behalf of the UAE, including breaking into mobile devices.

Requests for comment sent to representatives for Gericke, Baier, Adams and Dark Matter were not immediately answered.

“No government or individual should tolerate the misuse of spy malware to deter human rights,”Ms. al-Hathloul said in a statement. “This is why I have chosen to stand up for our collective right to remain safe online and limit government-backed cyber abuses of power.”  (Source: The Straits Times)