Israeli phone hacking company faces court fight over sales to Hong Kong
Human rights advocates filed a new court petition against the Israeli phone hacking company Cellebrite, urging Israel’s ministry of defense to halt the firm’s exports to Hong Kong, where security forces have been using the technology in crackdowns against dissidents as China takes greater control.
In July, police court filings revealed that Cellebrite’s phone hacking technology has been used to break into 4,000 phones of Hong Kong citizens, including prominent pro-democracy politician and activist Joshua Wong. He subsequently launched an online petition to end Cellebrite’s sales to Hong Kong, which gained 35,000 signatures.
“Defense Ministry officials must immediately stop the export of the Cellebrite system which is used for infringement on privacy, deprivation of liberty and freedom of expression, and political incrimination of Hong Kong citizens under the new National Security Law,” Wong wrote in a Facebook post urging Israel to stop Cellebrite’s exports to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s new security law, which increases Beijing’s control of the city, defines pro-democracy protests as terrorism, severely limits free speech, and reduces much of the autonomy that the city once had from China. As of May, the United States no longer considered Hong Kong autonomous from the mainland.
Hong Kong activists say that Cellebrite’s tech is “used to inflict terrorism on the city’s residents and to attack demonstrators and pro-democracy activists.” Israeli human rights advocates say exports to Hong Kong police should legally have stopped in 2019 when anti-democratic crackdowns grew dramatically.
Now the Israeli petition in court aims to put legal and political pressure on the technology firm, which is based in Tel Aviv.
“I’m asking the minister of defense to stop the Cellebrite exports to Hong Kong,” says Eitay Mack, the human rights lawyer who filed the petition in the district court in Tel Aviv. “I’m also saying that, as far as I know, they never got an export license. The ministry of defense needs to enforce the law from companies with licenses, but also they need to do oversight on companies working without a license.”