To maintain a good reputation “Google” should End its Partnership with Saudi Arabia
Together for Justice joins the voices of human rights organizations and human rights defenders in calling on Google to reverse its decision to establish a new cloud services area in Saudi Arabia until guarantees are provided by the Saudi regime to improve human rights conditions in the Kingdom.
About 39 human rights organizations and individuals working in the field of digital privacy rights at the local and international levels, including ALQST, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Democracy Now for the Arab World, Ben America, Freedom House, the Association for Progressive Communications and others had sent a message to Google earlier this month, urging them to reconsider the decision to partner with Saudi Arabia on establishing a new cloud services area.
Saudi Arabia has a dismal human rights record, including digital surveillance of dissidents, to silence them and it has reached an unprecedented level of suppression both at home and abroad, and an example of this is Abdel Rahman Al-Sadhan and Jamal Khashoggi and others.
It started after Google announced in December 2020 an agreement with Saudi Aramco to establish a Google cloud services area in Saudi Arabia and provide cloud services there.
It is worth noting that Aramco is a state-owned company, which has raised many concerns about the exploitation of the services provided by the American company, especially since the Google cloud platform is considered one of the largest data storage and cloud computing services in the world, to spy on users and penetrate their privacy and access their personal data.
The organizations highlighted that “Saudi Arabia’s recent track record of repression of all public dissent, alleged espionage and infiltration of technology platforms, use of cyber-surveillance software to spy on dissidents, and a notorious justice system that flagrantly violates due process rights make Saudi Arabia an unsafe country to host Google Cloud services.”
“While Google publishes how it handles government requests for customer information and reports when requests are made through formal channels, there are numerous potential human rights risks of establishing a Google Cloud region in Saudi Arabia that include violations of the rights to privacy, freedom of expression and association, nondiscrimination, and due process.”
The organizations pointed out that Saudi history in espionage and spying is miserable, giving examples that “an Amnesty International staff member and another Saudi Arabian human rights activist were targeted in 2018 through a Saudi-related message, in what the organization suspects were a deliberate attempt to spy on its own staff by a government hostile to its work. Investigations by Amnesty International revealed that clicking the links sent to the staff member and activist would have installed “Pegasus,” a sophisticated surveillance tool developed by the Israel-based company NSO-Group.”, adding that “Saudi authorities also have repeatedly sought to identify anonymous dissidents and spy on its citizens through digital surveillance. For instance, Citizen Lab, a Canadian academic research center, concluded with “high confidence” that in 2018, the mobile phone of a prominent Saudi activist based in Canada was infected with spyware, which allowed full access to a victim’s personal files, such as chats, emails communications, and photos, as well as the ability to surreptitiously use the phone’s microphones and cameras to view and eavesdrop.
While in another instance, in 2019, two Twitter employees were charged by the US Department of Justice with spying for Saudi Arabia.”
Together for Justice stresses on the need for Google to uphold its human rights obligations, and holds it responsible for the damages that may be caused to the lives and privacy of users in the event that it proceeds with the implementation of this undoubtedly abusive partnership, which will make it complicit in future human rights in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.
In this regard, we recall Google’s statement on human rights, in which it affirmed its commitment “to respect the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the treaties for its implementation, as well as supporting the standards set forth in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and in the principles of the Global Network Initiative through all of its products, including cloud services.”.
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