England and Wales fans warned to bring burner phones to Qatar World Cup to avoid being spied on
Ministers should warn football fans in England and Wales not to use burner phones in Qatar amid serious concerns their personal devices will be hacked and spied on during the World Cup.
All visitors to the Gulf state are required to download the Hayya for Qatar 2022 app before being allowed to enter, but MPs and other Western nations have warned the software gives authorities extensive access to data and allows them to spy on users.
Alicia Kearns, Tory leader of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said I that while it was complicated for the Foreign Office to include such warnings in official travel advice, she said ministers should make the public aware.
“I don’t think there is any FCO travel advice to any country suggesting people should take burner phones, but ministers can help communicate this,” she said.
“These apps allow people to turn your phone back on, it has access to all your data, it has access to your microphone so it can listen to calls and it can send messages without you knowing. It has a pretty heinous amount of control over your phone.”
Kearns said the requirement to download apps when crossing borders is increasingly being used by “opportunistic” post-Covid autocratic regimes.
And she warned British ministers and officials not to bring their personal devices to the World Cup, fearing they could be hacked. It comes after revelations that Liz Truss’ mobile phone was compromised by Russia.
This week, the Swiss government instructed all ministers and civil servants to take a burner phone to Qatar over concerns that their personal phones would be hacked. In an email, shared with IOfficials are also being warned not to install banking apps on their “Qatar device” for fear their bank details could be accessed.
The app is part of a project codenamed “Viper” that was developed for the Qataris by an American security firm called Global Risk Advisers (GRA), a firm made up of former CIA agents, including its founder, Kevin Chalker.
A document called “Empowering Qatar” created by the GRA in August 2014 shows how the Gulf state can increase its surveillance capacity in the run-up to the World Cup. The case was first revealed this week by the Swiss News Agency swissinfo.ch.
Under Project Viper, it says it can offer “in-situ mobile device exploitation” that will “enhance national security and law enforcement missions”. The software can also “extract call history, contacts and data either locally or remotely”.
“This program provides data collection capabilities that benefit identity management and signals intelligence operations,” it adds.
Another part of the document describes something called Project Checkmate, which describes proposals to develop a “long-term, strategic communications plan to neutralize media attacks targeting the 2022 World Cup”.