Are YOU under surveillance?
“They monitor your social media; they monitor your phone calls, even your meetings with friends, just to be sure that you won’t go back to doing the activity you were detained or arrested for, or even just questioned about for hours.”
– Quote taken from a previous OCHR investigation in which
the Centre talked to activists inside Oman
Do you think your phone calls, text messages, e-mails and any online activity are safe from hacking, wiretapping and surveillance?
Do you think only criminals carry out operations like hacking and wiretapping?
Read on to find out what really goes on:
The media and human rights community were shocked to learn recently of the Israeli company NSO Group’s involvement in creating and developing espionage software called “Pegasus”.
The spyware has been used to target the phones of 189 journalists, 85 rights activists and more than 600 politicians and government officials who were on a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers leaked to media outlets.
Espionage using Pegasus was carried out on behalf of authoritarian and repressive regimes accused of being behind these spying operations, such as Saudi Arabia, Morocco, the UAE and Bahrain.
In 2017 a BBC documentary called “Weapons of Mass Surveillance” revealed how governments, especially in the Middle East, are using sophisticated modern technology to spy on their citizens, primarily targeting civil and political rights activists.
The programme heard from a number of experts, academics and victims, and visited the locations of establishments that provide support to Arab states including Oman, though they did not respond to its requests for comment.
And “Vault 7”, a special edition of “The Fifth Estate” on German broadcaster DW’s Arabic channel, revealed key information about companies that supply millions of dollars’ worth of technical expertise and equipment to Arab states – among them Oman – to keep their citizens under surveillance.
In 2014 researchers published details of “AirHopper” technology that made it possible to spy even on air-gap isolated devices with no external networking connection.
In an article published in the American magazine Reader’s Digest, author Joe McKinley touched on the signs that indicate a smartphone has been hacked. They include a significant increase in the use of internet data, the phone’s battery draining quickly or the phone overheating, new apps appearing on the phone’s screen etc.
From evidence gathered by the Omani Centre for Human Rights through a series of interviews with Omani activists and writers, it is clear that:
- Activists’ social media accounts and phone conversations are monitored.
- Several activists have been aware of the presence of security personnel spying on all their meetings and encounters with friends in public places.
- A number of activists who have been called in for questioning have been confronted with evidence in the form of voice recordings or text messages sent via SMS or platforms like WhatsApp.
- The Omani Public Prosecution has brought a number of charges against activists purely because of WhatsApp messages; oddly enough, the Omani courts have accepted this, found the defendants guilty, and sentenced them to prison terms or fined them.
- Most of the activists agreed that this constant monitoring constrains their freedom of action even in matters unrelated to human rights or politics.
- All of the activists contacted during the investigation agreed that this kind of surveillance led to a sharp drop in human rights activity.
In June 2020 the Sultan of Oman issued a decree establishing the “Cyber Defence Centre”, to be run by the Internal Security Service (ISS). Human rights activists have raised concerns regarding this development, since the ISS has been involved in surveillance operations and monitoring activists’ and journalists’ phones and data since 2011.
Do you still think you are safe from being kept under surveillance?