A cellphone hacking scandal has landed a Pretoria attorney in trouble, after two Cape Town residents complained that he revealed confidential information illegally obtained from a spy programme planted in a BlackBerry cellphone handset.
The spy programme, Flexi-spy, can be downloaded from the internet for a few dollars. It allows a hacker to listen in on real-time conversations on a targeted cellphone, as well as to view SMSes, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) conversations and e-mails, according to court documents.
Attorney Selwyn Shapiro had been reported to the Law Society of the Northern Provinces for bringing the name of the attorneys’ profession into disrepute by using the hacked information in a divorce case, the two complainants said.
This comes after Shapiro’s male client in a divorce case was criminally charged last year with hacking into his wife’s cellphone.
The Law Society of the Northern Provinces has confirmed it is investigating the complaint against Shapiro.
The society’s legal official, W Wolmarans, said they had received the complaint and were communicating directly with the two complainants. The complainants allege that Shapiro revealed the hacked information in court papers that are part of divorce proceedings. The divorce case will be heard in August in the North Gauteng High Court.
The couple may not be named as it is illegal for the media to report on divorces.
Selwyn Shapiro, a director at Shapiro & Shapiro, Pretoria, denied any wrongdoing.
“It’s implied that I acted unprofessionally, which is not the case. I was not party to placing any spyware on phones so that’s why I’m really not concerned. Documents were furnished to me. The court should decide on its merits.” He added that the divorce court needed to decide whether the hacked evidence would be allowed.
Shapiro said he had handled “a tremendous number of divorce cases”, but that this was the first one he’d ever encountered involving cellphone spying.
The attorney confirmed the cellphone spyware was the subject of a criminal complaint against his client.
The main complainant in the Law Society matter against Shapiro is a male friend of the woman in the divorce. He told the Law Society that Shapiro had disclosed confidential information obtained from SMS and BBM messages, as well as bank details and police records.
“The information was obtained in an obviously illegal manner. At no stage did I give any person, including Mr Shapiro, permission to hack my bank account or police records. It’s privileged and confidential information.
“Mr Shapiro should have known the information was obtained in an illegal manner, and amounted to a grave invasion of my privacy,” his statement to the Law Society said.
In her affidavit for the criminal charge she laid against her husband, the woman said he gave her a new BlackBerry phone in March last year. They separated a month later.
“Since summons was issued in the divorce, I’ve had a reasonable suspicion the accused was spying on me or hacking my means of communication. Details of confidential issues discussed between myself, my attorney, advocate, third parties and friends telephonically were mentioned by the accused in various telephone conversations we had. The only way he could have known was if he had had access to my mobile phone,” her statement reads.
When she subsequently found out her husband knew she was trying to find rental accommodation, she was shocked. “I realised the accused knew every move I made.”
When the divorce proceedings started, the woman said she discovered “to my utter disbelief and shock” that confidential information from phone conversations, text messages and e-mails were in the accused’s affidavit, she said.
She added that Shapiro had also had privileged information about her friend’s bank balances and classified police information.
Flexispy apparently offers call interception and spy call features. The hacker can specify a series of target phone numbers and can listen to conversations in real time, from anywhere in the world, by calling the targeted BlackBerry.
The woman believes her husband’s attorney “was aware of the hacking and must have seen that the data originated from using Flexispy software”.
The woman’s lawyer, Bertus Preller of Abrahams and Gross in Cape Town, said it was “quite astonishing to think that someone could eavesdrop (on) confidential consultations of an attorney and a client”.
He added that the Rica Act stipulated the possibility of a fine of up to R2 million or 10 years in prison for someone who was convicted of cellphone hacking. - Sunday Argus