Several non-governmental organizations have called on Lebanon’s general prosecutor to investigate reports of secret large-scale surveillance tied to the country’s General Security department, and urged the authorities to “immediately end" any arbitrary surveillance program.
“If these allegations are true, this intrusive surveillance makes a mockery of people’s right to privacy and jeopardizes free expression and opinion,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“Lebanese authorities should immediately end any ongoing surveillance that violates the nation’s laws or human rights, and investigate the reports of egregious privacy violations,” she added.
Seven human rights and media organizations, including HRW, said privacy and surveillance researchers released a report this month alleging that a malware espionage campaign responsible for stealing hundreds of gigabytes worth of personal data was tied to the bulky, sandstone-colored high-rise that is owned by the General Directorate of General Security in Beirut.
Researchers at mobile security firm Lookout Inc. and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, said the espionage campaign has been running since 2012, affecting thousands of people in more than 20 countries, including activists, journalists, lawyers, and educational institutions.
Their 49-page report said the espionage was primarily carried out through mobile devices that were compromised by fake messaging applications, allowing attackers to take photos, retrieve location information, and capture audio.
It added that the haul, which includes nearly half a million intercepted text messages, had simply been left online by the hackers.
Lebanese Interior Minister Nohad al-Mashnouq has not denied the report, but he described it as “exaggerated.”
Director General of General Security Abbas Ibrahim also said: “General Security does not have these type of capabilities. We wish we had these capabilities.”
The organizations said in their statement that international human rights law prohibits any arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, including private communications.
“Any government interference with privacy must be necessary to achieve a legitimate aim and must be carried out in accordance with both international and domestic law,” they said.