Report on government purchase of Israeli spy technology rocked by Bangladesh — BenarNews

Report on government purchase of Israeli spy technology rocked by Bangladesh — BenarNews

Bangladesh government’s latest purchase of advanced surveillance tools from Israel-affiliated companies, reported by Israeli newspaper Haaretz, are fueling new concerns about privacy and freedom of expression in the South Asian country.

Bangladesh’s acquisition of mass surveillance tools from companies linked to Israel has previously been reported, but a Haaretz investigation published this week identified four new purchases worth $12.8 million.

Bangladesh, the world’s third most populous Muslim-majority country, does not recognize Israel, which supports Palestinian statehood, and has an import ban against it.

Dhaka has not denied the Haaretz report, except to say that the purchases were not “direct” from Israel. Two days after the report came out, Bangladesh’s home minister said his ministry had acquired surveillance technology for “legitimate” purposes.

He was responding to a question from a ruling Awami League MP who asked if the government would increase vigilance in the face of what he called local and foreign conspiracies.

“The government has taken the initiative to introduce an ‘Integrated Lawful Interception System (ILIS)’ to monitor social media and prevent various anti-government and anti-government activities,” Interior Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told parliament on Thursday.

“Modern technology like Open Source Intelligence Technology (OSINT) has been added in the National Telecommunication Monitoring Center (NTMC) under the Home Ministry to thwart anti-state and anti-government activities,” he said.

‘Shopping trip’

Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) sharply criticized Khan’s comments, arguing that in the absence of any specific policy related to cyber surveillance, the advanced tools would erode basic constitutional rights related to privacy, communication and freedom of expression.

See also  Can Macs be hacked? How to find out if you have been hacked

In a media briefing, TIB previously cited examples of private phone chats and conversations with politicians, businessmen, journalists and opposition figures being intercepted and leaked on social media to embarrass them.

Bangladeshi laws do not require intelligence and law enforcement agencies to obtain permission before conducting cyber surveillance operations against individuals.

“As far as I know, [a judge’s permission] is not required, as stipulated in Sections 96 and 97 of the Telecommunications Act, Saimum Talukder, an expert on internet policy who teaches at BRAC University, told BenarNews.

A researcher based in Norway linked the recent purchases to Bangladesh’s next election, expected in December 2023 or January 2024.

“As the election approaches, this shopping spree of sophisticated spyware shows how desperate state agents are to snoop on opposition activists and their strategies,” Mubashar Hasan, a Bangladesh scholar at the University of Oslo, told BenarNews.

“Despotic governments use spyware all over the world to crush their respective oppositions. And there is no evidence that the Bangladesh government will act any differently.”

The recent purchases reportedly include “a spy car” which is said to be capable of intercepting sensitive data, including encrypted WhatsApp messages, within a certain radius.

When asked about the product, Bruce Schneier, a computer security expert at Harvard University, told BenarNews that the vulnerabilities lie more with users’ devices than with the encrypted messaging apps.

“WhatsApp and Signal are – as far as we know – secure,” he said. “But your phone isn’t. So if I hack your phone and read your screen, I can read your WhatsApp and Signal messages even though I haven’t hacked either messaging app.”

See also  Signs that your iPhone or Android is "infected" by dangerous hackers

BenarNews has previously reported on the Bangladesh government’s purchase decision the mobile receiver tool from a Swiss company, which the Haaretz investigation found acted as an intermediary for a Cyprus-based Israeli supplier.

Appetite for Israeli technology

Israel, a country of 10 million, has one of the most lucrative private surveillance industries in the world.

NSO Group, a cybersecurity firm based in Israel, recently attracted the global spotlight following revelations about its notoriously powerful spyware being used by countries with dismal rights records.

Despite bad press, such companies continue to attract customers.

“The latest revelations about Israel selling surveillance weapons to Bangladesh follow an unfortunately familiar pattern. The fact that Bangladesh is a dictatorship is irrelevant to Israeli arms dealers and the Jewish state,” said Antony Loewenstein, an Australian researcher whose forthcoming book deals with Israel’s export of surveillance technology.

In February 2021, Al Jazeera reported that Bangladesh had purchased surveillance equipment manufactured by an Israeli firm that listed Hungary as its country of origin. Al Jazeera alleged that Bangladeshi officers were trained by Israeli experts to use the equipment, which can monitor hundreds of mobile phones at once.

The Ministry of Defense in Israel, which regulates the industry, did not respond to Haaretz about whether it had granted a defense export permit for the Bangladeshi sale.

“Israeli weapons are routinely used as diplomatic weapons. There are hardly any credible checks and balances in Israel, Loewenstein said.

Last May, Bangladesh dropped an “except for Israel” clause from the passports, which was welcomed by Israeli officials.

However, Bangladesh still insists that its policy towards Israel has not changed. The political sensitivity surrounding Israel has not abated either.

See also  How hackers can drain your bank account with Apple and Samsung tap-and-pay apps

In recent weeks, ruling party leaders and activists have accused Nurul Haq Nur, a prominent student activist, of meeting with an Israeli civil society leader, Mendi N. Safadi, in the United Arab Emirates. Nur has rejected such a meeting.

Officials in the ruling party claim that Safadi was an agent of Mossad, Israel’s external spy agency, and plotted with Nur to orchestrate regime change in Bangladesh.

In May 2016, Aslam Chowdhury, a leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), was jailed for an “anti-state plot” after meeting Safadi at an event in India.

A month later, senior officials claimed that attacks occurring at the time in Bangladesh were the result of a conspiracy between the Mossad and the BNP – a claim rejected by Israel as “complete drivel”.

Recently, Bangladesh’s Supreme Court canceled the bail earlier granted by a lower court to Chowdhury in the 2016 case.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *