On August 19th, Justice Julian Knowles of the Queen’s Bench Division ruled that UK-based Saudi dissident Ghanem Al-Masarir can proceed to sue the Saudi government for allegedly infecting two of his iPhones with the Pegasus spyware in June 2018, and for coordinating a physical attack against him in London in October of the same year. The case put forth by Al-Masarir was first greenlit by the UK courts in 2020. At the heart of Ghanem Al-Masarir v Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the legal question of whether foreign states can claim immunity from being tried for claims of Pegasus hacking in the United Kingdom. Al-Masarir seeks damages for personal injury in the form of ‘psychiatric injury’ after learning that he had been subjected to state-sponsored surveillance, and the physical harm he was subjected to during the attack. Currently, foreign states enjoy immunity from legal proceedings in the United Kingdom under the State Immunity Act, 1978 (the Act). However, Section 5 of the Act details certain exemptions to this legal immunity—states lose immunity if an ‘act or omission’ of theirs in the United Kingdom causes death or personal injury, or damage to or loss of tangible property. Testing the parties’ arguments, evidence, and claims against five legal questions, Justice Knowles’ verdict overwhelmingly sided with Al-Masarir. With the ruling, the Saudi Arabian government’s immunity under the 1978 Act, in this case, stands lapsed, opening the doors for a legal investigation into its extraterritorial spying of civilians using sophisticated spyware. Why it matters: The…
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