The van that first came to light in August is alleged to have been intercepting private messages on a variety of platforms, like Facebook and WhatsApp, with the owner arguing it’s just a matter of time before governments start looking for loopholes to spy on their own citizens.
An independent criminal investigator has been appointed for a more thorough probe into possible data breaches by an Israeli-intelligence-owned spy vehicle alleged to have been operating in Cyprus, Attorney General Costas Clerides announced on Thursday.
It came into the spotlight in August following a Forbes magazine report, which has it that the Larnaca-based van is a converted GMC ambulance that can intercept WhatsApp messages unhindered, as well as keep track of Facebook chats and all other types of smartphone content.
Such operations potentially constitute privacy violations since Cypriot law prohibits phone tapping while allowing the interception of written communications under certain circumstances but provided there is a formal court order for this.
The government earlier issued a statement saying the importation and sale of such gear is punishable by fines, prison sentences, and seizure of the products in question.
Owned by WiSpear, an Israeli spy firm registered in Cyprus, the total snooping equipment pre-installed in the van amount to $9 million, according to WiSpear founder Tal Dillian. In the Forbes report, Dillian enthusiastically boasted his company was making “a lot of money” from the widening gap between spying tech and encryption technology, implying that the latter is lagging behind and he is looking forward to more and more governments seeking “back doors” to digital messaging apps.