One year after the revelations of the Pegasus project, the lack of a global moratorium on spyware sales has allowed the surveillance industry to continue unchecked.
The Pegasus project revealed how governments around the world used the NSO group’s Pegasus spyware to place human rights activists, political leaders, journalists and lawyers under illegal surveillance. The project is a collaboration between Amnesty International and media organizations worldwide.
Following repeated calls to regulate the surveillance industry, some steps have been taken in the right direction. But governments have not yet done enough to combat human rights abuses.
Governments need to do more
“One year after the Pegasus spyware revelations shocked the world, it is alarming that surveillance companies are still exploiting large-scale human rights violations,” said Amnesty International’s Danna Ingleton. “The Pegasus project made it clear that there was an urgent need for action to regulate an industry that is out of control. But embarrassingly, governments around the world have still not taken steps to thoroughly deal with this digital surveillance crisis. The illegal targeted Monitoring human rights defenders and civil society organizations is an instrument of repression. ‘
The Pegasus project was a collaboration between journalists from 17 media organizations in 10 countries, coordinated by Forbidden Stories. Amnesty International’s security lab used advanced digital forensic tests and investigative methods to prove that dozens of phones around the world were infected.
Last year, Security Lab discovered the launch of Pegasus in Western Sahara and Poland. In addition, Security Lab confirmed cases where Pegasus was used illegally against humans. It happened in El Salvador, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Poland and Spain, among others. Illegal surveillance violates the right to privacy and may also violate the right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
‘Very violent form of censorship’
Amnesty International has been investigating illegal surveillance for years. There is growing evidence that governments are violating human rights and that companies are benefiting from illegal targeted surveillance.
Julia Gavarrete, a journalist in El Salvador, said: ‘It is scandalous that a powerful tool to fight criminals is being used to attack independent journalists and human rights defenders. It is embarrassing that we have no idea who was behind this. After being targeted, I changed the way I communicate and also thought twice about the kind of information I want to share with others – not just for my own safety, but to protect the people I communicate with. ”
Hicham Mansouri, a Moroccan journalist living in France, described the feeling of being targeted by spyware as follows: ‘a very violent form of censorship because we refuse to express ourselves on many topics, both in a professional and personal context . That’s their goal: to make you paranoid, isolate you from people and lock you in a prison. ‘
Investigations and lawsuits are currently pending against the NSO Group in France, India, Mexico and Poland. In March 2022, the European Parliament set up the PEGA Committee to examine the use of Pegasus and other spyware in Europe.
In November 2021, the U.S. government blacklisted the NSO Group for “conducting activities contrary to national security or foreign policy interests.” Later that month, Apple filed a lawsuit against the NSO Group for holding the company responsible for monitoring Apple users.
In recent weeks, there have been reports that the US defense company L3Harris is in negotiations to buy ownership of Pegasus software. NSO Group’s future remains uncertain.
“We will continue to push for a global moratorium on the sale, transmission and use of spyware until legitimate human rights guarantees are in place to regulate its use,” Danna Ingleton said.
States must comply with binding obligations under international law, not only to respect human rights, but also to protect them from abuse by third parties, including private companies.