Hacking Team, the surveillance company notorious for helping repressive governments spy on their own citizens, partnered with Cyberpoint International, a U.S. defense contractor, to sell spyware to the United Arab Emirates, according to documents revealed this week.
The technology has been used to crack down on pro-democracy activists in the UAE, some of whom found Hacking Team software surreptitously implanted on their computers.
The surveillance product used by UAE authorities has ties to New York University, which maintains a campus in Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital. Paul Kurtz, the chief strategy officer at Cyberpoint, chairs an advisory board for a privacy and cybersecurity center at the NYU-Abu Dhabi campus.
In October 2014, Kurtz moderated an NYU-UAE panel on cybersecurity issues. The event was sponsored by the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Security and Privacy and the Atlantic Council.
As we’ve reported, Cyberpoint has a special relationship with U.S. officials and the UAE, winning lucrative American military contracts and a special license from the State Department to supply the Persian Gulf nation with cybertechnology. The firm also advises the UAE intelligence agency, which is modeled on the U.S. National Security Agency.
The relationships illustrate the multifaceted business and military ties that bind the U.S. and the UAE, despite rampant human rights abuses.
Human Rights Watch found that UAE authorities aggressively restrict the rights of freedom of expression. The group reported examples of UAE authorities arbitrarily detaining and torturing critics of the regime.
NYU has faced mounting criticism for its relationship with the autocratic regime.
Journalist Sean O’Driscoll was deported from the UAE after investigating brutal labor practices endured by immigrant workers brought into the UAE to build NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus. In March of this year, NYU professor Andrew Ross, who has criticized the UAE’s exploitation of migrant workers, was blocked from boarding a flight to Abu Dhabi.
Ross later learned that a private investigator had been hired to look into his life and work because of his critiques of the regime.