Amnesty Calls For Ban On Surveillance Technology In Pegasus Scandal

A woman checks the website of Israel-made Pegasus spyware at an office in the Cypriot capital Nicosia on July 21, 2021. 
Mario GOLDMAN / AFP

 

Allegations that governments used phone malware supplied by an Israeli firm to spy on journalists, activists and heads of state have “exposed a global human rights crisis,” Amnesty International said, asking for a moratorium on the sale and use of surveillance technology.

In a Friday statement, the NGO warned of “the devastating impact of the poorly regulated spyware industry on human rights worldwide.”

The NSO Group’s Pegasus software — able to switch on a phone’s camera or microphone and harvest its data — is at the centre of a storm after a list of about 50,000 potential surveillance targets was leaked to rights groups.

Amnesty International and French media nonprofit Forbidden Stories collaborated with a clutch of media companies, including the Washington Post, the Guardian and Le Monde, to analyse and publish the list.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who was on the list of alleged targets, had to change his phone and number.

“Not only does it expose the risk and harm to those individuals unlawfully targeted, but also the extremely destabilising consequences on global human rights and the security of the digital environment at large,” Agnes Callamard, Amnesty’s Secretary-General, said in the statement.

Israel group NSO “is just one company.”

“This is a dangerous industry that has operated on the edges of legality for too long, and this cannot be allowed to continue,” she said.

“Now, we urgently need greater regulation over the cyber-surveillance industry, accountability for human rights violations and abuses, and greater oversight over this shadowy industry.”

Amnesty called for an immediate moratorium on any export, sale, transfer, and use of surveillance technology “until there is a human rights-compliant regulatory framework in place.”

“The fact that world and other political leaders themselves may have come into the spyware technology’s crosshairs will hopefully serve as a long-overdue wake-up call for them and states worldwide to step up and regulate this industry,” Callamard said.

The list of alleged targets includes at least 180 journalists, 600 politicians, 85 human rights activists, and 65 business leaders.

NSO insists its software is only intended for use in fighting terrorism and other crimes, and that it exports to 45 countries, with approval from the Israeli government.

-AFP

Pegasus Spy Claims Probed As Macron Switches Phone

 

 

Hungary, Israel and Algeria on Thursday probed allegations that Israeli-made spyware was used on journalists, rights activists and 14 heads of state, as French leader Emmanuel Macron ordered tighter security and changed his phone over espionage concerns.

President Macron — whose name was on a list of alleged targets — ordered “a strengthening of all security protocols” following a specially convened meeting of the nation’s Defence Council, his office said.

Macron “has himself changed his phone and number for certain exchanges”, it said.

The NSO Group’s Pegasus software — able to switch on a phone’s camera or microphone and harvest its data — is at the centre of a growing storm after a list of about 50,000 potential surveillance targets was leaked to rights groups.

Amnesty International and French media nonprofit Forbidden Stories collaborated with a clutch of media companies, including the Washington Post, the Guardian and Le Monde, to analyse and publish the list.

The widening scandal is drawing in countries from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to Morocco, India and a host of other mostly emerging economies.

Hungary was the only EU country listed as a potential user of the spyware, with hundreds of targets including journalists, lawyers and other public figures.

Hungarian prosecutors said on Thursday they had opened a probe “to establish the facts and to determine whether and, if so, what crime has taken place”, the Budapest Regional Investigation Prosecutor’s Office said.

– Weapon of choice –
Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto has insisted the government “has no knowledge of such data collection”, while some critics decried the move as a time-wasting manoeuvre.

“They have years to investigate if they want… This is merely an administrative step,” said Andras Lederer from the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights.

NSO insists its software is only intended for use in fighting terrorism and other crimes, and that it exports to 45 countries, with approval from the Israeli government.

The Israeli government said it has set up a commission to review the software.

The priority was “to review this whole matter of giving licences,” lawmaker Ram Ben Barak, a former deputy head of the Mossad spy agency, told Army Radio.

Pegasus had “exposed many terror cells”, he said, but “if it was misused or sold to irresponsible bodies, this is something we need to check”.

NSO would “be very pleased if there were an investigation, so that we’d be able to clear our name”, Chief Executive Shalev Hulio told Army Radio on Thursday.

Algeria’s public prosecutor also ordered an investigation into media reports that the north African country may have been a target.

“NSO’s spyware is a weapon of choice for repressive governments seeking to silence journalists, attack activists and crush dissent,” Amnesty chief Agnes Callamard said.

– ‘Lies and fake news’ –
Evidence of an attempted hacking was found on the phone of former French environment minister and close Macron ally Francois de Rugy, with the attempt allegedly originating in Morocco, according to the media reports.

Morocco is suing Amnesty and Forbidden Stories in France and “does not intend to let the multiple lies and fake news spread these past few days go unpunished”, said Olivier Baratelli, a lawyer for the government.

A first hearing is set for October 8, though a trial might not open for another two years.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, dismissed allegations of their involvement.

UAE’s foreign ministry on Thursday said the allegations “are categorically false” and “have no evidentiary basis”.

Saudi Arabia’s official SPA news agency reported an official source saying “such allegations are untrue, and that (the country’s) policies do not condone such practices”.

Saudi Arabia Denies Pegasus Spyware Allegations

File Photo: Wikipedia

 

Saudi Arabia has dismissed as “baseless” allegations that it used Israeli-supplied Pegasus malware to spy on journalists and human rights activists.

“A Saudi official denied the recent allegations reported in media outlets that an entity in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia used software to monitor phone calls,” the official SPA news agency reported late Wednesday.

“The source added that such allegations are untrue and that KSA’s policies do not condone such practices.

More to follow . . .

Private Israeli Malware Used To Spy On Journalists, Activists: Report

) In this file photo taken on August 28, 2016, an Israeli woman uses her iPhone in front of the building housing the Israeli NSO group "Pegasus", in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv. JACK GUEZ / AFP
) In this file photo taken on August 28, 2016, an Israeli woman uses her iPhone in front of the building housing the Israeli NSO group “Pegasus”, in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv. JACK GUEZ / AFP

 

Activists, journalists and politicians around the world have been spied on using cellphone malware developed by a private Israeli firm, reports said Sunday, igniting fears of widespread privacy and rights abuses.

The use of the software, called Pegasus and developed by Israel’s NSO group, was reported on by the Washington Post, the Guardian, Le Monde and other news outlets who collaborated on an investigation into a data leak.

The leak was of a list of up to 50,000 phone numbers believed to have been identified as people of interest by clients of NSO since 2016, the reports said.

Not all of those numbers were subsequently hacked, and the news outlets with access to the leak said more details about those who were compromised would be released in coming days.

Among the numbers on the list are those of journalists for media organizations around the world including Agence France-Presse, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, The New York Times, Al Jazeera, France 24, Radio Free Europe, Mediapart, El País, the Associated Press, Le Monde, Bloomberg, the Economist, Reuters and Voice of America, the Guardian said.

The use of the software to hack the phones of Al-Jazeera reporters and a Moroccan journalist has been reported previously by Citizen Lab, a research center at the University of Toronto, and Amnesty International.

Among the numbers found on the list were two belonging to women close to Saudi-born journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered by a Saudi hit squad in 2018.

The list also included the number of a Mexican freelance journalist who was later murdered at a carwash. His phone was never found and it was not clear if it had been hacked.

The Washington Post said numbers on the list also belonged to heads of state and prime ministers, members of Arab royal families, diplomats and politicians, as well as activists and business executives.

The list did not identify which clients had entered the numbers on it. But the reports said many were clustered in 10 countries — Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The Guardian wrote that the investigation suggests “widespread and continuing abuse” of Pegasus, which NSO says is intended for use against criminals and terrorists.

Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based media non-profit organization, initially had access to the leak, which they then shared with media organizations.

NSO, a leader in the growing and largely unregulated private spyware industry, has previously pledged to police for abuses of its software.

It called the allegations exaggerated and baseless, according to The Washington Post, and would not confirm its clients’ identities.

Citizen Lab reported in December that dozens of journalists at Qatar’s Al-Jazeera network had their mobile communications intercepted by sophisticated electronic surveillance.

Amnesty International reported in June of last year that Moroccan authorities used NSO’s Pegasus software to insert spyware onto the cellphone of Omar Radi, a journalist convicted over a social media post.

 

AFP