Bangladesh bought phone-hacking tools from Israel, documents show

Documents obtained by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit (I-Unit) and Israeli newspaper Haaretz reveal how the Bangladesh government spent at least $330,000 on phone-hacking equipment made by an Israeli company, even though the two countries do not have diplomatic relations.

Developed by the Cellebrite security firm, UFED is a product that is capable of accessing and extracting data from a wide range of mobile phones. Its ability to hack encrypted phone data has worried civil rights campaigners, who have long called for its use to be more strictly regulated.

Developed by the Cellebrite security firm, UFED is a product that is capable of accessing and extracting data from a wide range of mobile phones. Its ability to hack encrypted phone data has worried civil rights campaigners, who have long called for its use to be more strictly regulated.

Developed by the Cellebrite security firm, UFED is a product that is capable of accessing and extracting data from a wide range of mobile phones. Its ability to hack encrypted phone data has worried civil rights campaigners, who have long called for its use to be more strictly regulated.

Halting exports to Bangladesh

Eitay Mack, an Israeli human rights lawyer who has been fighting the export of Israeli defence technology that could be used for human rights violations – including in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy protesters in 2019 took to the streets for months – explained how intrusive the technologies that Bangladesh has bought from Israel really are.

“You’re able to take all information about the person’s life, about their relationships, medical records, name of friends and in the case of journalists the names of a source,” Mack told Al Jazeera.

“In the case of Hong Kong, the police used Cellebrite’s systems to access the phones of 4,000 protesters.”

Cellebrite eventually stopped its exports to Hong Kong after public outcry and a court case brought by Mack. Now, he is doing the same with Bangladesh. On Monday, Mack filed a petition with the Israeli courts, asking them to retract the export licenses of Cellebrite and Picsix to Bangladesh.

“Even if a company like Cellebrite or Picsix has branches operating in Singapore, it’s still under Israeli law,” Mack told Al Jazeera. “As long as the company is owned by Israeli citizens they need an export license from the Ministry of Defence.”

Mack argued that Israel uses the exports of these tools to build relationships with countries with poor human rights records such as Bangladesh, South Sudan and the United Arab Emirates.

“Exporting these tools is easier than, for example, selling Bangladesh Israeli rifles. These kinds of systems are less present and this is how Israel is able to create secret relationships with these countries,” Mack said.

“But it’s important to note that this is not a relationship between the Israeli people and the Bangladeshi people, or the Emirati people. It’s a relationship between the Israeli government and the local regime.

“This kind of relationship means that Israeli is helping local repression in many places around the world.”

I-Unit reached out to the Bangladesh Ministry of Home Affairs as well as Cellebrite. Neither provided any comments at the time of publication.

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