No secret spying

No secret spying

Security minister denies claims that Israeli technology being used to monitor Jamaicans

By Arthur Hall
Editor-at-large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, June 02, 2019

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NATIONAL Security Minister Dr Horace Chang has rejected allegations that the Government is using Israeli technology to spy on Jamaicans.

“That is absolutely nonsense. Definitely not true,” Chang told the Jamaica Observer last Tuesday.

“Israel is one of the countries which have approached us and one that we are having discussions with. At the moment they might be assisting in setting up of a technology institute of some sort for training, but we have had no security agreement. Operationally the Israelis have done nothing in Jamaica,” said Chang.

The security minister was responding to Member of Parliament for Manchester Central Peter Bunting, who recently warned Jamaicans to be vigilant in the face of what he said could be a plan by Government to invade people’s privacy, using high-end Israeli spy technology.

“We know the prime minister had taken a trip to Israel two years ago with his national security adviser, and two years’ time we still can’t hear what that trip was about. But what we now hear is that Israeli firms are providing cyber security capability to the Government,” said Bunting.

“We also hear that a number of these Israeli firms have provided this software capability, this intelligence capability to governments who have used it to spy on their political opponents, to governments who have used it to spy on media, to governments who have used it to spy on human rights activities.

“This is software that can… be used to infect the phone… read your WhatsApp messages, and reveal what is on your phone. So essentially, they use your phone to spy on you…,” Bunting told Comrades at a recent meeting in Mandeville.

But Chang said the Jamaican Government has entered no such agreement with any Israeli entity.

“I know the big concern has come from this thing involving the WhatsApp, which they (the Israelis) have the most advanced technology and it is alleged that this technology is being used by some people to breach the WhatsApp security, but we are not into that,” Chang said.

“If we have to go that route and get that technology it will be public knowledge, and the appropriate governance will be put in place. But we don’t have it, we have not acquired it, and we would not do it unless we have the appropriate governance in place,” added Chang.

That denial came hours before Julian Robinson, the Opposition spokesman on science and technology, used his presentation in the Sectoral Debate last Tuesday to ask several additional questions about the Government’s arrangements with the Israelis.

“None of us know whether the Jamaican Government has partnered with an Israeli company to provide cyber security services but there are enough legitimate concerns about how these companies operate that should prompt the Government of Jamaica to be open and transparent about these arrangements,” said Robinson.

“We do know that billions of dollars have been budgeted to support a cyber security initiative. We do know that Israelis are here in Jamaica working closely with our security forces on a cyber security initiative.

“I know the argument will be that if we discuss it, the criminals will know. We are not asking for operational details but we must have assurances that the tools available to the Jamaican Government are not being misused for political purposes,” added Robinson.

He further questioned if Jamaica is a partner, or collaborates, in the Caribbean Israel Centre for Cyber Defence and pointed to a May 2018 announcement by then Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Dr Andrew Wheatley that the Government of Jamaica was on the verge of signing a memorandum of understanding with Israel Aerospace Industries for the establishment of a regional cyber academy.

“We have concerns about the secrecy surrounding the arrangements with the Israelis and the total lack of information around our cyber security arrangements,” said Robinson, as he charged that there is a tainted history that has followed Israeli companies which provided cyber security tools and services to other countries.

Efforts to get a response to Robinson’s questions were unsuccessful last week as senior Government officials said Prime Minister Andrew Holness will provide a full response in Parliament at the appropriate time.

Last month, WhatsApp issued an advisory to its users urging them to upgrade the application to plug a security hole that allowed for the injection of sophisticated malware that could be used to spy on journalists, activists, and others.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp said it released an update to fix the vulnerability in the messaging app used by 1.5 billion people around the world following an attack that had all the hallmarks of a private company that works with a number of governments around the world.

WhatsApp did not name the company, but international analysts said the spyware appeared to be related to the Pegasus software developed by Israeli-based NSO Group, which is normally sold to law enforcement and intelligence services.

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