Israeli Cellebrite halts phone-hacking services to Hong Kong and China

The change comes after new US regulations restricting technology and other exports, meant to curb Beijing's acquisition of technology under civilian pretenses.

China Israel flags (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
China Israel flags
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Israeli technology company Cellebrite will stop selling its services to customers in Hong Kong and China, the company announced on Wednesday.
The change comes after new US regulations restricting technology and other exports, meant to curb Beijing’s acquisition of technology under civilian pretenses that would then be used by its military and for surveillance purposes.
Cellebrite CEO Yossi Carmil said the company “empowers law enforcement agencies and enterprises to make our communities safer by providing solutions that help lawfully acquire digital evidence in criminal investigations and civil proceedings.”
But Hong Kong pro-democracy activists said Cellebrite was used by the Hong Kong Police Forces to hack into their phones, and a document from the Hong Kong police backed up their account.
Joshua Wong, a leading activist whose phone was hacked , joined a call from Israeli human rights lawyer Eitay Mack in July for the Israeli Defense Ministry and Economy Ministry to block Cellebrite from exporting to Hong Kong. Following the June 30, 2020 “national security law,” in which Beijing essentially put Hong Kong under Chinese Communist Party law and outlawed all political activity, the activists argued that Cellebrite’s system is a dual-use security product “used to inflict terror on the city residents.”
That call was cosigned by 37 Israeli human rights activists, who said the Cellebrite system was used to hack into 4,000 Hong Kong citizens’ phones. An online petition calling on the company to stop working with Hong Kong Police gathered over 36,000 signatures.
Mack said on Thursday that he was very happy to hear Cellebrite would stop selling its products to China and Hong Kong. The court date for his petition to block the company’s sales to China and Hong Kong was meant to be in March 2021.
“Better late than never,” he said. “It’s good that Cellebrite chose the morally and legally right thing to do, without the court’s intervention.”
The attorney pointed out that US law requires Cellebrite not only to stop selling to China and Hong Kong, but to shut down the existing devices, as well.
A letter from Cellebrite's CEO Yossi Carmi posted on the company's website last week says "digital technology plays an enormous role in creating safer communities....[and] enables law enforcement to take violent criminals off the streets." The company's top priority, he said, is to work with "agencies responsible for the safety of the public," and 97% of criminal cases today involve evidence on at least one smartphone.
At the same time, he said, "we stand for the protection of human rights and privacy."
Mack and a group of activists filed a petition to the Tel Aviv District Court last month to block Cellebrite from selling its product to Russia, which they say is using it for political persecution.
He has petitioned the courts to stop the company’s sales to Venezuela and Belarus, as well.
The Israeli data-extraction company also sold technology to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and to the Saudi Arabian Justice Ministry, according to media reports.