Cambridge University Rejects £400m Over Pegasus Hacking

Britain’s Cambridge University has abandoned plans to strike a £400m partnership with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after the state allegedly used controversial hacking software. Professor Stephen Toope, Cambridge's vice-chancellor, said it was now "on hold" and told Varsity, the university’s student newspaper that the UAE’s links to the use of Pegasus spyware prompted the University to reconsider the proposal

The proposed UAE-Cambridge Institute of Innovation was said to have been a 10-year collaboration between Cambridge and “several educational, government and business partners” in the UAE, according to documents leaked in July.

The university has now broken off talks after the Gulf State was accused of using Pegasus hacking software which works by secretly taking control of a person’s phone using their IP address to collect data. 

Cambridge University’s outgoing vice-chancellor Stephen Toope said talks have ceased amid accusations by Pegasus.

Mr Toope told Varsity: “There were other revelations about Pegasus that really made us decide it was not the right time to pursue these kinds of really ambitious plans with the UAE. “ Toope said he had not met with the ruling Prince of the UAE and had not held meetings with anyone from the state. “There are existing relationships across the university at a departmental and individual academic level, but there are no conversations about a major project... We are aware of the risks of dealing with many states around the world, but we think it’s worth having the conversation.”

A spokesperson for the university told The Guardian: “We will be thinking over the next few months before further evaluating our long-term options with our partners and with the university community.”

The University told Varsity: “The University of Cambridge has numerous partnerships with governments and organisations around the world...  It approached the United Arab Emirates as it does all potential partnerships: with an open mind, and rigorously weighing the opportunities to contribute to society, through collaborative research, education and innovation, against any challenges.” The statement continues: “These are always finely balanced assessments. We will be reflecting over the next few months before further evaluating our long term options with our partners and with the University community.”

A spokesperson for the Cambridge Ethical Affairs Campaign told Varsity that they welcome the news that the deal is on pause: "The campaign has been fighting this collaboration since its announcement, launching a petition over summer against it, on the basis of ongoing human rights abuses in the UAE and threats to academic freedom.  
“Nevertheless, it is regrettable that the university only cancelled the deal when revelations emerged about the UAE’s use of Pegasus Spy Software, and not because of the existing moral concerns harboured by staff and students."

In July, shortly after the Cambridge-UAE partnership was announced, the Pegasus Project revealed that more than 400 UK mobile phone numbers appeared in a leaked list of numbers identified by government clients of NSO Group between 2017 and 2019. 

Varsity:        BBC:         Bharat Express:    Guardian:     GCC:      Telegraph:    Anadolu Agency

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