Cellebrite Used to ‘Violate Human Rights,' Stop Their IPO, Rights Groups Urge

Access Now and other rights groups are trying to prevent Israeli phone-hacking firm from going public due to ‘urgent concern over unresolved human rights risks linked to the sales history of Cellebrite’

Oded Yaron
Oded Yaron
 A USB device is attached to Cellebrite's UFED TOUCH, a device to extract data from a mobile device
A USB device is attached to Cellebrite's UFED TOUCH, a device to extract data from a mobile device. Signal's founder revealed he cracked Cellebrite's software and that it is exposed to manipulationCredit: Issei Kato/ REUTERS
Oded Yaron
Oded Yaron

The digital rights group Access Now called on Tuesday to block the Israeli surveillance technology company Cellebrite from going public, urging securities regulators and shareholders to “direct Cellebrite towards transparency and robust human rights protections” as a condition for a stock market listing.

“We know the human rights abuses Cellebrite’s technology has reportedly abetted,” Access Now said in a letter co-signed with other human rights groups. “The company is also well aware of the risks, yet seems to continue to place these tools into the hands of repressive regimes.”

The letter called on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and NASDAQ to reject Cellebrite’s listing. It urged the shareholders of TWC Tech Holdings II, the special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, the public shell company that Cellebrite plans to merge with, to demand that Cellebrite provide a “robust disclosure of all aspects of Cellebrite’s human rights compliance programs.”

They also called on them to “vote against the merger and redeem all SPAC shares unless Cellebrite demonstrates its ability to mitigate human rights risks.”

Cellebrite, which announced in April that it was going public, works with law enforcement agencies and has a long list of clients for its Cellebrite’s flagship product is the Universal Forensic Extraction Device, or UFED, which enables law enforcement agencies to extract data from locked mobile phones. The company says it only sells the system to legitimate law enforcement agencies and defense forces, and has boasted that it is used to help with serious crimes like pedophilia and terror.

But investigations led by Eitay Mack, a lawyer and human rights activist, have helped reveal that the technology has been sold to countries implicated in human rights violations and has been used to crack down on political dissent. For example, until this year, the company’s system was sold to China, which used it against pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, and Russia and Belarus. It has also sold its technology to Bangladesh. It has even been sold to bodies under international sanctions.

In their letter, the groups noted that “Cellebrite flagrantly admits that its products pose risks to human rights, and has openly stated they ‘may be used by customers in a way that is, or that is perceived to be, incompatible with human rights.’”

The letter follows the work of U.S. Congressman Tom Malinowski, a Democrat from New Jersey, who on June 11 urged the SEC and NASDAQ to force Cellebrite to show more transparency.

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