Dubai Princesses Latifa, Haya 'possible Pegasus targets'

Dubai Princesses Latifa, Haya 'on Israeli Pegasus spyware possible targets list'
3 min read
27 July, 2021
Princesses Latifa and Haya's possible targeting with Pegasus spyware 'appear[s] to implicate NSO Group in the catalogue of human rights violations' they've faced, Amnesty said.
Princess Latifa attempted to escape Dubai in early 2018 [Getty]

Two prominent Dubai princesses were allegedly placed on a list of possible targets of the Israeli Pegasus spyware, according to reports this week.

One of them, Princess Latifa, 32, was featured in a BBC documentary earlier this year where footage of her claiming to be "hostage" in a "jail villa" was shown.

Her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, is the Emir of Dubai and Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE.

Princess Haya, 47, formerly married to Al-Maktoum, also seemed to have been selected, The Washington Post said on Wednesday.

Amnesty Tech director Rasha Abdul Rahim said: "These shocking revelations appear to implicate NSO Group [maker of Pegasus] in the catalogue of human rights violations inflicted on Princess Latifa and Princess Haya."

She urged governments for a "global moratorium on the export, sale, transfer and use of spyware equipment until a robust human rights-compliant regulatory framework is in place".

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Amnesty Tech is part of rights NGO Amnesty International.

Latifa and Haya's mobile numbers are said to have been among 50,000 others given to a media and NGO collective called the Pegasus Project.

It is thought the numbers belong to possible targets of users of the software, said to include the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

In Latifa's case, her and some of her friends were reportedly included as possible targets soon after her unsuccessful escape from the UAE in early 2018.

The numbers of Princess Haya and others close to her, including her half-sister, were reportedly selected in 2019 over a period from just prior to her escape from Dubai, to the weeks following it.

Authorities in the UAE have in the past rejected the claims of both Haya and Latifa.

Last month, Latifa said via her lawyers that she was free to travel. Earlier in June, a photograph showing her at an airport in Spain was posted on Instagram. 

The creator of the Pegasus spyware, the NSO Group, has flatly rejected any suggestions of misconduct. There has been no expert inspection of the devices of Latifa and her circle.

According to The Washington Post on Tuesday, the company denied that the register of 50,000 numbers was "a list of targets or potential targets of NSO's customers".

It said it was incorrect to call those on it "potential surveillance targets".

A lawyer for the firm stated that it "does not have insight into the specific intelligence activities of its customers", The Washington Post said.

The lawyer said there were multiple appropriate ways the register of numbers may have been employed that are unrelated to monitoring efforts.

However, the US paper said it heard from a knowledgeable source claiming NSO had ended its agreement with Dubai in the past year after discovering rights' issues.

The Pegasus spyware scandal has seen reports of other high-profile possible targets in recent days.

These include Lebanese politicians and even individuals connected to slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

NSO said in a statement on Wednesday via a London-based PR company that it is no longer responding to questions about the NGO allegations of hacking.

"The list was not a list of targets or potential targets of Pegasus" the statement read and described NGO reports of hacking as a "vicious and scandalous campaign" against the tech company.

The UAE's foreign affairs ministry issued a statement on Thursday saying: "The allegations made by recent press reports claiming that the UAE is amongst a number of countries accused of alleged surveillance targeting of journalists and individuals have no evidentiary basis and are categorically false."

Editor's note: This article was originally published on 22 July, with the UAE foreign affairs ministry's statement being added on 26 July.