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Islamic Republic Using Surveillance Tool to Monitor Released Prisoners

Illustration: Glenn Harvey for The Intercept
Illustration: Glenn Harvey for The Intercept

Researchers at Lookout Threat Lab, a technology firm that specializes in safeguarding online data, discovered on Monday a new Android surveillance tool used by the Islamic Republic's Police (FARAJA) to monitor prisoners after they have been released from jail.

"This is a reminder of the extent to which the regime will go to silence dissident voices and that even once an unjustly detained Iranian is released from prison, they are still not free so long as they live under the oppressive Islamic Republic regime," said Andrew Ghalili, a senior policy analyst at the DC-based National Union for Democracy in Iran (NUFDI).

According to reports, the tech company tracked spyware called BouldSpy since March 2020, which experts say is an Android botnet ransomware.

Researchers at the firm say that BouldSpy has ransomware and has "victimized more than 300 people, including minority groups such as Iranian Kurds, Baluchis, Azeris, and possibly Armenian Christian groups."

To further strengthen surveillance of individuals released from regime prisons, researchers said that the regime’s police force installs BouldSpy on devices obtained during detention.

"BouldSpy represents yet another surveillance tool taking advantage of the personal nature of mobile devices," Lookout researchers said.

The organization noted that the spyware was also used to monitor and prevent illegal trafficking activities related to weapons, drugs, and alcohol. The malware's use came following the protests in late 2022 after the Islamic Republic's morality police killed 22-year-old Mahsa Amini over her hijab wear.

"The first locations exfiltrated from the victims are, with few exceptions, concentrated near Iranian provincial police stations, Iranian Cyber Police stations, Law Enforcement Command facilities, and border control posts. Based on this, we theorize that a victim's device is confiscated once detained or arrested, and then subsequently physically infected with BouldSpy," Lookout said in a press release.

Ghalili notes that it is "helpful to think of this in the context of all the other tools the regime uses to censor, surveil, and oppress the Iranian people. Remember that, despite the lies parroted by many in U.S. media that the Islamic Republic was disbanding the morality police as a concession to protests, the regime actually simply shifted to using even more invasive methods such as facial recognition technology to enforce its hijab laws" Ghalili explained to The Foreign Desk.

As Iranians continue to protest against the Islamic Republic, reports indicate that the regime has arrested, beaten, and killed hundreds of young Iranians for exercising their freedoms and calling for regime change. Many Iranians have rallied around friends and family members of individuals currently imprisoned in Tehran, calling on the European Union and the United States to stand with the protests and enact severe consequences against the Islamic regime for their brutal repression.

Related Story: Iran Regime Places Public Surveillance Cameras to Identify and Penalize Unveiled Women

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