Pegasus: Governments Use Spyware Against Journalists, Politicians and Human Rights Activists – Reports | News from science and technology


Spyware, developed by an Israeli surveillance company called NSO Group, has been used to target journalists, political dissidents and human rights activists, an investigation found.

The NSO Group says their spyware is only used by governments to hack the cellphones of terrorists and serious criminals, but a leaked list of more than 50,000 phone numbers of interest to the company’s customers suggests they are is used much more widely.

More than 1,000 people in 50 countries have reportedly been selected for potential surveillance – including 189 journalists and more than 600 politicians and government officials.

The identity of these goals will be revealed later this week by the Paris-based journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International and their media partners.

The list includes the phone numbers of the murdered Mexican journalist Cecilio Pineda Birto, Roula Khalaf, editor of the Financial Times, and high-ranking figures from Indian news website The Wire who investigated the government for spreading disinformation on the Internet.

The NSO Group’s hacking software, known as Pegasus, is regularly linked to repressive state activity targeting people believed to question the power of leaders. The company says it is seriously investigating these abuses.

Amnesty International said its forensic researchers found NSO Group’s spyware on the phone of Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancé Hatice Cengiz four days after he was killed three years ago at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

A spokesman for the NSO Group said, “Our technology has in no way been linked to the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi. We can confirm that our technology has not been used to hear, monitor, track or collect information about him or his family members in the investigation. We have previously examined this claim, which again is made without validation. “

Some of the largest tech companies in the world, including Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, are currently embroiled in a lawsuit against the company in connection with its hacking tools.

In response to the investigation, the NSO Group told The Associated Press that it had never kept “a list of potential, past, or existing targets” and that the report was “full of false assumptions and unconfirmed theories.”

The company said it only sold to “vetted government agencies” to fight terrorism and serious crime, but critics consider these claims dishonest and the investigation shows the lack of regulation in the global surveillance industry.

Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International, said: “NSO spyware is a weapon of choice for repressive governments that want to silence journalists, attack activists and crack down on dissent, putting countless lives at risk.

“These revelations refute any claims by NSO that such attacks are rare and result from the malicious use of their technology. While the company claims its spyware is only used for legitimate criminal and terrorist investigations, it is clear that its technology facilitates systemic abuse.

“They paint a picture of legitimacy while benefiting from widespread human rights violations.

“Your actions clearly raise bigger questions about the widespread lack of regulation that has created a wild west with rampant abusive attacks on activists and journalists.

“Until this company and the entire industry can demonstrate their ability to respect human rights, there must be an immediate moratorium on the export, sale, transfer and use of surveillance technology.”

NSO has repeatedly stated that it is “not involved in the operation or identification of any targets of its technology, which is operated solely by intelligence and law enforcement agencies”.

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