Reported spyware deal implicates Israeli firm in Myanmar junta’s crimes, critics say – Radio Free Asia

Human rights groups are criticizing a reported deal between Myanmar’s military and an Israeli tech firm for intercept spyware, accusing the company of aiding and abetting the junta in crimes against humanity.

Israel’s Cognyte Software won a tender to sell the intercept spyware to Myanmar shortly before the February 2021 coup, when the military ousted the democratically elected government, documents obtained by activist group Justice for Myanmar showed.

Intercept spyware allows governments to listen to telephone calls, read text messages and emails, and determine the whereabouts of internet users without having to go through internet and telecommunications companies.

These documents, which detailed the Myanmar military’s plan to install “lawful interception” tools on telecommunications networks, were the basis of a legal complaint in Israel, and a letter associated with the documents called for the country to ban Cognyte’s marketing and export license.

“The term ‘lawful interception’ creates a false impression of normalcy that obscures the fact that Israelis are once again aiding and abetting crimes against humanity,” Israeli human rights leader Eitay Mack, who led the effort to file the complaint.

Such a deal would violate a 2017 ban imposed by Israel’s Supreme Court on defense transfers to Myanmar, the campaign for which was also headed by Mack.

Used to violate human rights

Rights groups, observers, and the shadow National Unity Government say that the junta has been using the technology to violate its citizens’ human rights.

“We can say that Israel is one of the top countries in surveillance tech. That’s why the technical support that the Myanmar military received from [Cognyte] must be really sophisticated and effective,” Kyaw Saw Han, a security analyst, told Radio Free Asia’s Burmese Service.

He said the intercept spyware will have a negative impact on civilians by further depriving them of their freedom to communicate. The junta has already imposed draconian restrictions on the internet in some parts of the country, and has blocked access to Facebook. 

With the spyware, the military could listen in on people’s private conversations or even record them, Kyaw Saw Han said.  

“It will especially hurt the resistance forces that are operating in this political situation,” he said, referring to armed groups opposed to the junta, many of which sprung up after the coup.

Rebel groups believe they have been compromised by the intercept technology, although they don’t have proof, Khun Daniel of the Karenni National Progressive Party told RFA.

“Their ground activities, food transportation and guerrilla operations have been hindered and many members have been arrested because of the information insecurity caused by the military’s use of such equipment,” he said.

But the technology empowers the junta not only against armed enemies. It can also use the tech against civilians, said Yadanar Maung, a Justice for Myanmar spokesperson.

Call for Israeli government to take action

He said the military can eavesdrop and intercept the phone calls of political activists, journalists and civilians that can lead to arrests, torture and even killings. 

That is why Justice for Myanmar has requested that the Israeli government take action against those responsible for the reported …….


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