British court rules Dubai ruler used Israeli spyware to hack princess’ phone

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Oct. 6 (UPI) — Dubai’s leader used a powerful Israeli surveillance program to hack the phones of his estranged wife and her closest associates, a British court ruling released Wednesday states.

The ruling by the British High Court of Justice found that agents of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum carried out “unlawful surveillance” of his ex-wife, Princess Haya, her personal assistant, two of her lawyers and two members of her security team using the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware after she fled to London with her two children.

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The Pegasus spyware allows operatives to take over a phone without needing its owner to click a link and can covertly send data including call logs, emails, GPS coordinates, text messages and recordings from a phone’s cameras and microphones, according to The Washington Post.

NSO officials have said Pegasus is exclusively licensed to governments for use in tracking terrorists and criminals and that it can revoke contracts if investigations show the tool’s surveillance powers are being abused.

The NSO Group said in a statement to The New York Times that it is committed to human rights and cooperated in the court’s investigation although it does not recognize its jurisdiction.

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“Whenever a suspicion of misuse arises, NSO investigates, NSO alerts, NSO terminates,” the company said.

Haya’s phone was hacked 11 times during the summer of 2020 on Sheikh Mohammed’s “express or implied” orders as she was preparing for custody hearings related to the long-term care of herself and her children, the ruling stated.

Court documents also showed that more than 250 megabytes of her data were “covertly extracted” from her phone, potentially including mass amounts of photos, video, audio records, text messages or emails.

According to the ruling, Cherie Blair, the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and an adviser for NSO, was notified of the hack and informed Haya’s attorneys.

Sheikh Mohammed also attempted to purchase a 77-acre estate that was so close to Haya’s London home that it would have been in “prime position for direct or electronic surveillance.”

Haya’s legal team told the court she “has been living in fear of her life, frankly, and in fear of the children’s security” since she left Dubai in April 2019.

“It feels as if I am being stalked, that there is literally nowhere for me to go to be safe,” she said.

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Sheikh Mohammed denied the allegations, saying the matters that led to the surveillance concern “supposed operations of state security” adding the ruling was an “incomplete picture” as it was based on evidence that was not disclosed to him or his advisers.

He also argued that it was not appropriate for him as head of a government to provide evidence as part of private family proceedings in a foreign court but Judge Andre McFarlane noted the sheikh had submitted witness statements and ordered his legal team not to engage in the proceedings.

“At no stage has the father offered any sign of concern for the mother, who is caring for their children, on the basis that her phones have been hacked and her security infiltrated,” McFarlane wrote. “Instead he has marshaled a formidable forensic team to challenge the findings … and to fight the case against her on every point.”