Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul files lawsuit claiming 3 former U.S. officials helped hack her iPhone before she was imprisoned, tortured

Loujain al-Hathloul, a prominent Saudi political activist who pushed to end a ban on women driving in her country, is suing three former U.S. intelligence and military officials she says helped hack her cellphone so a foreign government could spy on her before she was imprisoned and tortured.

The nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation announced Thursday that it had filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court on al-Hathloul’s behalf against former U.S. officials Marc Baier, Ryan Adams and Daniel Gericke, as well as a cybersecurity company called DarkMatter that has contracted with the United Arab Emirates.

In the lawsuit, al-Hathloul alleges that the trio oversaw a project for DarkMatter that hacked into her iPhone to track her location and steal information as part of broader surveillance efforts targeting dissidents within the UAE and its close ally Saudi Arabia. She said the hacking of her phone led to her “arbitrary arrest by the UAE’s security services and rendition to Saudi Arabia, where she was detained, imprisoned, and tortured.”

FILE PHOTO: Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul is seen in this undated handout picture
Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul is seen in this undated handout picture. 

Handout . / REUTERS

“Companies that peddle their surveillance software and services to oppressive governments must be held accountable for the resulting human rights abuses,” said EFF Civil Liberties Director David Greene.

DarkMatter assigned her the codename of “Purple Sword,” the lawsuit says, citing a 2019 investigation by Reuters that first detailed the hacking of al-Hathloul.

The lawsuit is the latest legal challenge to the secretive private cyber-surveillance industry, which often sells pricey hacking services to authoritarian governments that are used to secretly break into phones and other devices of activists, journalists, political opponents and others. Tech giant Apple filed a lawsuit last month against Israel’s NSO Group seeking to block the world’s most infamous hacker-for-hire company from breaking into Apple’s products, like the iPhone.

Baier, Adams and Gericke admitted in September to providing sophisticated computer hacking…