Hong Kong democracy activists to Israel: Stop exporting tech to police

An activist claimed Hong Kong police used Israeli-made Cellebrite to hack his phone.

Anti-government demonstrators scuffle with riot police during a lunch time protest as a second reading of a controversial national anthem law takes place in Hong Kong, China May 27, 2020. (photo credit: TYRONE SIU/ REUTERS)
Anti-government demonstrators scuffle with riot police during a lunch time protest as a second reading of a controversial national anthem law takes place in Hong Kong, China May 27, 2020.
(photo credit: TYRONE SIU/ REUTERS)
Hong Kong pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong joined a call for Israel to block a civilian technology company from selling products China used to spy on protesters.
Wong wrote a Facebook post saying a software developed by an Israeli company called Cellebrite, was used by the Hong Kong Police Forces to hack into his phone.
The activist shared a letter by Israeli human rights lawyer Eitay Mack calling on the Defense Ministry and Economy Ministry to block Cellebrite from exporting its product to Hong Kong.
The letter was cosigned by 37 Israeli human rights activists “who support the rights of the citizens of Hong Kong to life, liberty and personal safety under a democratic government which will uphold their civil and human rights.”
The letter points out that Cellebrite is a civilian company that is often used by police forces around the world for legitimate means, “to save lives and fight crime.”
However, the activists state that the Cellebrite system was used to hack into 4,000 Hong Kong citizens’ phones. They appended a Hong Kong Police document to the letter, indicating that Cellebrite was used to break into Wong’s phone in April 2020.
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 argue that Cellebrite’s system is a dual-use security product “used to inflict terror on the city residents.”
As such, Cellebrite would need a license from the Defense Export Control Agency to export the system to Hong Kong, which they urge the Defense Ministry to deny the company.
The letter points to international responses to the national security law in Hong Kong, including an EU condemnation, the US freezing Hong Kong’s special trade status, the UK freezing an extradition treaty with Hong Kong and others.
“We hope that Cellebrite’s management will be sensitive to the severe deterioration in Hong Kong and attentive to the cry of its citizens that the system endangers them, and will announce on its own initiative its cessation of operations in Hong Kong, if not out of sensitivity to human rights, at least out of a desire not to harm its contracts in other countries and not to get entangled in the global wave of sanctions imposed on security forces in Hong Kong and those who assist them,” the letter reads.
Wong also shared an online petition started two weeks ago by another activist, Kwun Chung Law, with over 36,000 signatories, titled “calling upon Cellebrite to terminate phone hacking cooperations with Hong Kong Police.”
The petition states that “Cellebrite has a long history helping Hong Kong police forces to crack into activists’ mobile devices.” It points out that since Beijing unilaterally imposed its national security laws onto Hong Kong this year, the police may now do so to any citizen – including journalists, lawyers and people working in the finance sector – could be subject to a search of their electronic devices without a warrant.
“Cellebrite claims its technology is used to create a ‘safer world’. But... cooperation with this authoritarian regime are de facto imperiling the personal safety of all western nationals,” the petition reads.
The Israeli data-extraction company also sold technology to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), according to The Daily Beast.
Hong Kong’s government banned Wong and 11 other pro-democracy figures from running for the upcoming Legislative Council election, in a decision released on Thursday afternoon.
Wong said the reason for his ban is because he called the national security law “draconian,” and that candidates must support Hong Kong’s basic laws.
“Clearly Beijing shows a total disregard for the will of the Hong Kongers, tramples upon the city’s last pillar of vanishing autonomy and attempts to keep Hong Kong’s legislature under its firm grip,” Wong wrote on twitter. “However, in order to safeguard the city’s future, Hong Kongers will not surrender. Our resistance will continue on and we hope the world can stand with us in the upcoming uphill battle.”
Cellebrite said that it does not comment on specific customers, but that they have strict guidelines governing how the technology may be used. It also does not sell to countries on the Financial Action Task Force blacklist or that are under sanction by the US, Israel or "the broader international community."