The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, hacked the phones of his ex-wife Princess Haya and her attorneys during the legal battle over custody of their two children, Britain’s High Court found Wednesday.
Sheikh Mohammed, who is also vice-president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, gave his “express or implied authority” to hack the phones of the princess and her attorneys using Pegasus spyware produced by NSO Group of Israel, the court said. The software is licensed exclusively to nation states for use by their security services.
NSO has been at the centre of allegations that governments are abusing electronic surveillance technology to spy on political opponents, human rights activists and journalists.
The hacking of the princess’s phone came to light partly through the work of William Marczak, a fellow at Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity watchdog at the University of Toronto. In addition, NSO adviser Cherie Blair, the wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair, contacted one of the princess’s lawyers to inform her that the company suspected its software had been “misused” to hack into her phone.
Warning from cybersecurity expert
The case highlights the danger posed by unregulated companies selling surveillance technology to “some of the world’s most repressive governments,” Marzcak told The Associated Press.
“If that situation is not addressed by governments, by tech companies and by other institutions, we could live in a world where this sort of thing gets targeted not just at the dissidents and the journalists and the ex-wives of the world, but perhaps ordinary folks might be targeted or could be vulnerable to this sort of surveillance,” he said. “I think it’s important to address this now before it becomes an even bigger problem.”
Wednesday’s decision is the latest episode in the long-running custody battle between Sheikh Mohammed, 72, and his estranged wife. Princess Haya, 47, fled to Britain with her children in April 2019, saying she had become terrified of her husband’s threats and intimidation.
Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein leaves the High Court in London in July 2019. Prior to Wednesday’s ruling, the judge previously ruled that Sheikh Mohammed conducted a campaign of fear and intimidation against his estranged wife and ordered the abduction of two of his daughters. (Alastair Grant/The Associated Press)
The ruling is important because Judge Andrew McFarlane has insisted throughout the case that Sheikh Mohammed needed to build trust with the court that he wouldn’t take unilateral action to remove the children from their mother’s care.
“The findings made in this judgment prove that he has behaved in a manner which will do the opposite of building trust,” McFarlane said in the ruling. “The findings represent a total abuse of trust, and indeed an abuse of power, to a significant extent.”
The judge previously ruled that Sheikh Mohammed conducted a campaign of fear and intimidation against his estranged wife and ordered the abduction of two of his daughters.
Lawyers point to foreign players
Sheikh Mohammed’s lawyers chose not to offer evidence to counter the hacking allegations, arguing that the princess hadn’t proved either that the phones had been hacked or that the UAE or Dubai ordered any hacking that may have occurred.
The court was also told that Sheikh Mohammed could neither confirm nor deny whether the UAE had a contract with NSO for use of Pegasus software.
But his lawyers did suggest …….