“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 a few hours.”
– Quote taken from a previous OCHR investigation in which the Centre talked to activists inside Oman.
Download your PDF copy: Mass Surveillance
Do you think your phone calls, text messages, e-mails and 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 is really going on:
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 some establishments providing support to Arab states, including Oman, though they did not respond to its requests for comment. It revealed the name of one company, the British firm BAE Systems, that sold surveillance technology to Oman with the knowledge of Britain’s Conservative government.
“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. The programme also revealed the name of one such company, the Italian-based Hacking Team.
From various pieces of 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.
- 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 as SMS or on apps such as WhatsApp.
- The Omani Public Prosecution has brought a number of charges against activists purely because of WhatsApp messages; and, 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.
The government in Oman is not open about its activity on this front. The security establishment is far from accountable, and no one can be sure how much it is spending in this area, or what rights it is violating in order to procure these surveillance tools for monitoring activists.
You can’t be sure that you’re not under surveillance
at this very moment!