Corporate Enabled State Crime 2021 – Pegasus Spyware

Pegasus Spyware – an example of corporate enabled state crime breaching the human right of privacy in 2021

Pegasus Spyware is software which is able to bypass your phone’s security and gain access to data on your device, such as:

  • emails
  • Whatsapp messages
  • photos
  • Your GPS location

It can also switch on your microphone and camera and record what you are doing without you being aware.

Pegasus is the most sophisticated piece of Spyware ever developed and it takes surveillance to its most intense and intrusive level ever.

How Pegasus hacks your phone

Pegasus Spyware is the main product of the Israeli surveillance company NSO Group who sells its surveillance software to governments around the world.

The company says it ‘vet’s governments and only sells software to clients involved in combatting terrorism and other serious crimes – by infecting suspected terrorists’ phones and subjecting them to intense surveillance.

However, according to a recent Guardian investigation, a recent leak of NSO files has revealed that some of government’s clients have been using their Spyware to target journalists and other dissidents who are perceived to be critical of their regimes. Some of the countries who use the software with bad records of human rights abuses include:

  • India
  • Morocco
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Hungary
Countries using Pegasus Spyware in breach of citizens’ human rights

The leaked records include 50 000 phone numbers of people whose phones may have been hacked – The Guardian recently investigated hundreds of these numbers and found that in dozens of cases the software was indeed on their phones and in some cases the people who have been under surveillance, or people close to them have been murdered, possibly by agents of the state in an attempt to silence them.

(NB the company denies these allegations and says its software is only used legitimately by ‘vetted’ governments.)

The most serious consequence of this level of surveillance used in this way is that it poses a threat to democracy. Dictatorial states are obsessive about surveillance in order to crack down on opposition and this software increases hugely their capacity to do just this.

It also reveals as a ‘fantasy narrative’ the idea that surveillance companies and states work together to only surveil ‘criminals’ in order to keep ordinary citizens safe. In these examples it is the citizens who are being kept under surveillance and having their right to privacy undermined as a result, without their consent.

A Corporate-State Crime

This seems to be a good example of a corporate enabled state crime, with the governments identified above being the criminals and the victims being anyone who has had their phone hacked.

Privacy is a fundamental human right defined under the United Nation’s Human Rights Convention, and in the above examples there are 5000 potential cases of individuals having their right to privacy denied by governments, in breach of their human rights.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This material is relevant to both the crime and deviance module and the media module, especially the topics of state crime and surveillance.

Find out More

This video provides a good overview of the Pegasus Surveillance Project.

This link to The Guardian provides an excellent way into exploring all aspects of this issue.

The Deportation of Chevon Brown – A Breach of Human Rights?

It can be difficult to find easy to understand examples of the state breaching individual human rights, but the recent deportation of Chevon Brown might just be one such example.

This case study from February 2020 is relevant to the ‘state crime and human right’s topic within the A-level sociology Crime and Deviance module.

In February 2020 Chevon Brown was deported to Jamaica from the United Kingdom.

He had just been released from Prison having served 8 months of a 14 month sentence for danagerous driving and driving with no insurance.

He was 21 when he decided to take his car for a spin, despite being a learner driver with no insurance, and when he saw police, he says he panicked, and sped up, which led to a 5 minutes high speed chase, and he puts his actions down to stupidity, and he’s paid the ultimate price.

Britain has the right to deport foreign citizens who have been sentenced to 12 months or more in prison, under the UK Borders Act, which came into force in 2007, unless doing so would infringe their human rights, by sending them back to a country where their life would be at threat, for example.

Chevon was 14 when he moved to Britain with his father on a Jamaican Passport. Despite having ‘indefinite leave to remain’ in the UK, he is still technically a Jamaican national, and so the UK had the right to deport him.
The problem is, he no longer has any friends or family in Jaimaica, and his father is remaining in the UK, with his other children.

Since returning to Jamaica, Chevon says he doesn’t feel safe. “I am nervous walking down the street,” he says. “Anything could happen – every day people die here.”

According to UN data, Jamaica had a murder rate of 47 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2016. In the UK, the rate was 1 per 100,000.

Chevon was deported along with 40 other criminals, many of whom had committed more serious offenses, such as murder, and he says the Jamaican media as labelled them all with the same brush, so it is difficult for him to make friends or find a job.

Sources – The BBC News May 2020.

Sociological Questions to consider about this case study

  1. Is deportation for ‘dangerous driving’ an appropriate punishment?
  2. Given his lack of friends and family in Jamaica, the alleged discrimination he’s facing (due to negative media labeling) and his increased chance of being murdered, did the UK government breach his human rights by deporting him?
  3. Is this deportation an example of institutional racism?
  4. Do you think the original decision to imprison him for 14 months was fair, or just another example of institutional racism?

By contrast you might want to consider this in relation to the case of Anne Sacoolas, the American Diplomat’s Wife who actually killed a British Teenager by driving on the wrong side of the road, fled back to America and is now being protected by the US Government, rather than being deported back to the UK to stand trial.

The Forced Labour behind Christmas Cards

A family recently found a plea for help in a ‘charity’ Christmas Card from Tesco. The message read “We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qingpu prison China. Forced to work against our will. Please help us and notify human rights organisation.”

The Christmas Card in which the plea for help was found!

According to this Sky News report, the message requested that whoever read it contact a British journalist, Peter Humphrey who had himself been incarcerated in the same prison (on false charges), and forced to make Christmas related products for various other big name high street companies. The family contacted Humphrey, who validated the message.

This is at least the third time that someone has found a similar message in products made in Chinese prisons.

Relevance to A-level sociology

  • Firstly, this is a good example of negative globalisation – where the most oppressed people in one of the most oppressive nations on earth suffer at the end of a global supply chain which delivers consumers in the UK cheap products, in this case Christmas cards.
  • Secondly, it’s a good example of Corporations engaging in what Matza might call the ‘denial of responsibility’ – even though they benefit from the cheap (/free) labour of Chinese prisoners, they can deny responsibility because the supply chain is so large they claim they can’t check every case of human rights abuses which goes on along it. It’s a case of out of site, out of mind.
  • Finally, it’s another reminder of the fact that that China is a human rights abuser and a state criminal actor.

Final thoughts

If you want an ethical Christmas, I recommend you don’t celebrate it – do what I do and just start your New Year’s detox early instead!

What to do about Shamima Begum?

Shamima Begum was just 15 years old when she left her home in Bethnal Green, London, to join Islamic State in Syria. Now, four years later, she has witnessed two of her children die of illness and malnutrition, and fears for the life of her third child, born in a refugee camp in Eastern Syria, from where she’s requested to return to the UK, having shown no remorse for her dealings with ISIS.

The ‘punishment’, if we can call it that, is to strip of her of UK citizenship, which the Home Secretary can only do in this case because he believes Begum has the right to apply for Bangladeshi citizenship, even though she has never visited Bangladesh.

Interestingly, the UK government isn’t simply allowed to strip an individual of their citizenship and render them stateless, they are only allowed to do so in begum’s case because her Bangladeshi heritage allows her to apply for citizenship there. However, the Bangladeshi authorities say she won’t be allowed in. 

This article in The Conversation provides an accessible insight into the legality of revoking citizenship.

Even if the UK government is legally allowed to strip Begum of citizenship, this still feels like the UK government is somehow denying responsibility for Begum – surely it would be more appropriate to bring her back to the UK, put her on trial, and actually punish her as the UK citizen she really is, rather than trying to revoke it.

The argument that she’s ‘our responsibility’ is rooted in the fact that she was radicalised in the UK and managed to leave without any effective ‘safeguarding intervention’.

What the UK government’s response shows is just how difficult it is for nation states to deal with such international criminals…. Maybe it’s because we’ve got no long-term solutions? Maybe the government doesn’t want to bring her back because the population would be so against it, as 78% of the population believe she should have had her citizenship revoked.

Shamima Begum

This could very well (probably is) an example of popular punitiveness, despite the fact that she’s not really being punished as such!

However, just passing the buck onto another country because of a legal technicality doesn’t seem right, and what kind of message does this send out about how to deal with international criminals more generally?

Whatever your opinion on the Shamima Begum case, it certainly illustrates a the problems of dealing out justice where international crimes which cross boarders are concerned, and maybe suggests that nation states are too small to deal with such criminals?

Maybe we need to take a lesson from Escape to LA? Rather than nation states dealing with them in country of origin, we just put by stateless regions on earth, and build a wall round them, and see how they get on…?

We could also film it with drones and turn it into a form of entertainment….. the scary thing is this doesn’t actually sound that far-fetched, I can actually see most people getting on board with the idea!

 

 

 

Britain’s recent involvement in torture – a good example of a ‘state crime’

Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee It’s been 15 years since allegations first emerged of Britain’s involvement in the torture of those suspected of the 9/11 terror attacks, and earlier this month (July 2018) an official report has finally been released which reveals the ‘true’ extent of Britain’s compliance with the USA’s programme of torture.

uk torture

According to Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), Britain’s involvement amounted to at least 13 occasions of British agents witnessing suspects being mistreated and having been informed (but done nothing about) of mistreatment by their foreign counterparts or detainees more than 150 times.

The report found that British agents weren’t directly involved in torture themselves, but the strategy of British intelligence was to ‘outsource’ the interrogation process to those who they knew used ‘enhanced techniques such as stress positions, sleep deprivation and beatings.

The British effectively turned a blind eye to the fact that the USA was in breach of the Geneva Convention on Human Rights. They were so ‘blind’ in fact that they ignored the fact that at one detention centre detainees were kept in containers so small that they could neither stand or lie down, getting around this particular breach of human rights by simply building interrogation portacabins which were large enough to comfortably accommodate the prisoners.

So why did this happen?

Following 9/11 the security and intelligent services were under intense pressure to find and prosecute those responsible, but also to find information which might prevent future terrorist attacks. The problem with using such techniques, however, is that they might well just serve to increase recruitment to the same terrorist networks the authorities are trying to quash.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This seems to be a good example of Britain being involved in a ‘state crime’, also a good example of the extent of barriers to researching powerful actors: it’s taken 15 years for this official report to be conducted, and even this doesn’t tell us the whole story: Theresa May refused permission for four key officers to give evidence on national security grounds, so the true extent of Britain’s complicity in state crime may not surface for many years to come!

Sources:

What is State Crime?

Green and Ward (2005) define state crime as ‘illegal or deviant activities perpetrated by the state, or with the complicity of state agencies’. State crimes are committed by, or on behalf of nation states in order to achieve their policies.

So WHO can commit state crime?

According to the above definition anyone working for the State who engaged in illegal activities in order to achieve state policies.

The State is what the government runs – (one analogy is that governments are like the crew, the state is like the ship) – so this means any politician or civil servant doing anything deviant or illegal to pursue national policies in any sphere – be it health care, social welfare, education, military engagement, or crime control itself.

The inclusion of ‘state agencies’ means it is not just politicians or civil servants who can commit state crime, it is also public sector workers such as the armed forces or the police, or doctors, teachers, ANYONE who does anything illegal when working in an official context to achieve government policy, IF I’m reading the definition correctly (this is a tricky concept so I might not be!)

NB a teacher or a doctor stealing something from their workplace probably wouldn’t be an example of a state crime as this act wouldn’t help a nation state achieved its policies, and I’m not sure if a politician fiddling their expenses would count, because you could say EVERYTHING a politician does is related to achieving policy – MPs are the representation of the state, so anything deviant or illegal they do in office MIGHT count as a State Crime?

In the examples below HOWEVER, I’ll try to avoid individual crimes which individuals do for primarily for their own benefit, so as to ensure every example is as clear cut as can be, just be clear (ironically) that there are definitely grey areas in defining state crime, VERY large grey areas!

Some Examples of State Crime

State crimes include some of the WORST crimes in human history in terms of the harm done to individuals and societies, both in terms of the NUMBER of people affected and the suffering inflicted on those individuals.

Examples of state crimes include….

  • Genocide
  • War crimes
  • Torture
  • Funding organised crime and terrorist groups
  • Assassinations
  • Corruption
  • Discrimination

Types of State Crime

McLaughlin (2001) identifies four categories of state crime:

  1. • Crimes by security forces – e.g. genocide, torture, imprisonment without trial and disappearance of dissidents
  2. • Political Crimes – e.g. censorship or corruption
  3. • Economic crimes – e.g. violation of health and safety laws
  4. • Social and cultural crimes – e.g. institutional racism

These four categories allow us to be a little bit more analytical in studying State Crime – certainly to my mind the first category stands out as by far the more serious type of crime in terms of harm caused.

Below I provide some further examples of some of the crimes committed by States in the first two categories above. (This isn’t to say categories three and four aren’t worth studying, but there’s only so much time we can spend on this in an A-level course!)

Crimes of Security – Genocide

Genocide means any act committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, such as Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction, Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group or Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. (Source – teaching genocide –).

Three of the best known genocides include The Holocaust, The Cambodian Genocide and The Rwandan Genocide

The Holocaust was a genocide in which Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany and its collaborators killed about six million Jews. From 1941 to 1945, Jews were systematically murdered in one of the deadliest genocides in history. Every arm of Germany’s bureaucracy was involved in the logistics and the carrying out of the genocide. Other victims of Nazi crimes included Romanis, ethnic Poles and other Slavs, Soviet POWs, communists, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the mentally and physically disabled. A network of about 42,500 facilities in Germany and German-occupied territories were used to concentrate victims for slave labour, mass murder, and other human rights abuses. Over 200,000 people are estimated to have been Holocaust perpetrators.

In Cambodia, a genocide was carried out by the Khmer Rouge (KR) regime led by Pol Pot between 1975 and 1979 in which an estimated one and a half to three million people died. The KR had planned to create a form of agrarian socialism which was founded on the ideals of Stalinism and Maoism. The KR policies of forced relocation of the population from urban centres, torture, mass executions, use of forced labour, malnutrition, and disease led to the deaths of an estimated 25 percent of the total population (around 2 million people).

The Rwandan Genocide was a genocidal mass slaughter of Tutsi and moderate Hutu in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority. During the approximate 100-day period from April 7 to mid-July 1994, an estimated 500,000–1,000,000 Rwandans were killed, constituting as much as 70% of the Tutsi and 20% of Rwanda’s total population. The genocide was planned by members of the core political elite known as the akazu, many of whom occupied positions at top levels of the national government. Perpetrators came from the ranks of the Rwandan army, the National Police, government-backed militias and the Hutu civilian population.

Political Crimes – Corruption

Political corruption can take various forms, but the most common examples appear to be politicians siphoning public money off to their private bank accounts, unfairly granting government contracts in return for bribes and electoral fraud (vote rigging).


According to the Corruption Index put together by Transparency International there seems to be a correlation between corruption, war and conflict and poverty – Somalia, North Korea, Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq come out bottom of the Corruption Index, while the usual suspects – the Scandinavian countries plus Canada come out as the least corrupt.

To give you an example of how blatant corruption can get take the case of Teodoro Mbasogo who is the leader of Equatorial Guinea, one of the world’s poorest countries, but is also paradoxically one of the world’s wealthiest heads of state, with an estimated net worth of $600 million. For perspective, Barack Obama has a net worth of about $11.8 million.

Equatorial Guinea, despite having some of Africa’s largest oil reserves, has one of the most underdeveloped infrastructures and poorest populations in the world – so where does the money go?

The answer, at least from the outside, seems to be directly from the corporate accounts of Exxon Mobil and other oil companies straight into the pockets of Obiang and his family. In 2003, Obiang announced that to combat corruption in public service jobs, he would be taking full control of the national treasury. He then withdrew half a billion dollars (that’s billion with a B) in state money from the national treasury and deposited it into accounts in his own name at Riggs Bank, based in Washington D.C., effectively siphoning off all of the state’s money into his own pocket.


In addition to draining the country’s accounts, he’s also been implicated in various human rights abuses, electoral fraud, nepotism, and using security contractors to maintain control over the country.

Of course corruption doesn’t just happen in less developed countries – In 2009, the MP’s expenses scandal erupted in the UK, where numerous members of parliament and members of the house of Lords were found to be claiming expenses dishonestly. This resulted in 8 successful criminal prosecutions, any many more resignations, although most of the MPs got away with very minor punishments, as with Derek Conway MP who only received a 10 day suspension for paying his Son, Freddie, thousands of pounds for apparently doing nothing.

State Crime and Human Rights

One thing that has made it easier to hold states accountable is the emergence of the of the United Nations after the second world war, which developed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – developed after world war two, designed to protect individual citizens from oppressive regimes – this is legally binding on member states.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains a list of freedoms which states are supposed to protect such as…

  • Article 4 – No one shall be held in slavery or servitude
  • Article 5 – No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  • Article 20 – Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association
  • Article 24 – Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable working hours and holidays with pay.

The Scale of State Crime/ Human Right’s Abuses

The fact that Nation State’s maintain power and control over large territories and populations mean that they have the potential to engage in large scale crimes which victimise extremely large numbers of people – for example the Cambodian Genocide in the 1970s is estimated to have wiped out 25% of the population.

McLaughlin, Eugene (2001) Political violence, terrorism and states of fear. In, Muncie, John and McLaughlin, Eugene (eds.) The Problem of Crime. Second Edition. London, GB. SAGE Publications. (LINK but no details!)