Israeli cyber company Cellebrite sold technology for hacking into cellphones to the Uganda Police Force, despite reports revealing extensive human right violations by the police. Cellebrite, which specializes in developing tools for digital forensic investigations, has not denied the sale but claims it is scrupulous about legal and ethical use of its products.
Cellebrite’s flagship product is a technology called UFED, which enables enforcement authorities to hack into password-protected cell phones and download the information stored on them. In a letter sent by Israeli human rights lawyer Eitay Mack to Israel’s Defense Ministry and Cellebrite, a number of human rights activists call for cessation of sales of the technology and support services to the repressive regime headed by President Yoweri Museveni for the last 35 years.
Cellebrite, which is headed by CEO Yossi Carmil, claims its tools are sold only to police and security organizations for the purpose of fighting serious crime and terrorism.
however, its customers have included repressive, sanctioned regimes, among them Belarus, China and Hong Kong, Venezuela, Indonesia, Russia, the Philippines and the Rapid Action Battalion, the notorious RAB death squad in Bangladesh. According to open-source information on the internet and investigative reports by Eitay Mack, the tools have made their way into the hands of organizations repressing human rights activists, minorities and the LGBTQ community. Mack also lists murders, abductions and torture of the same groups by the police in his letter.
In one investigation, Mack found that the Uganda Police Force has used the system for hacking into mobile phones since 2017, and though the use of Cellebrite in Uganda had been secret until now, “a local company in Uganda made public that it supplies to the police there the UFED system capable of hacking through protection of mobile devices, gathering information from them and restoring information that has been deleted,” Mack wrote in his letter to the ministry.