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Pegasus: Governments using spyware on journalists, politicians and human rights activists – reports


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

NSO Group says that its spyware is only used by governments to hack the mobile phones of terrorists and serious criminals, but a leaked list featuring more than 50,000 phone numbers of interest to the company’s clients suggests that it is being used much more broadly.

More than 1,000 individuals in 50 countries were allegedly selected for potential surveillance – including 189 journalists and more than 600 politicians and government officials.

The identities of these targets are set to be revealed over the course of this week by Paris-based journalism non-profit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International, as well as their media partners.

The list includes the phone numbers of murdered Mexican journalist Cecilio Pineda Birto, Roula Khalaf the editor of the Financial Times, and senior figures at Indian news website The Wire who had been investigating the government spreading disinformation online.

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NSO Group’s hacking software, known as Pegasus, has regularly been linked to activities by repressive states to target people who are perceived to be challenging the power of leaders. The company says it investigates these abuses seriously.

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

A spokesperson for NSO Group said: “Our technology was not associated in any way with the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi. We can confirm that our technology was not used to listen, monitor, track, or collect information regarding him or his family members mentioned in the inquiry. We previously investigated this claim, which again, is being made without validation.”

Some of the biggest technology companies in the world, including Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, are currently engaged in a legal battle against the company in connection with its hacking tools.

Responding to the investigation, NSO Group told The Associated Press that it had never maintained “a list of potential, past or existing targets” and that the report was “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories”.

The company said it only sells to “vetted government agencies” for use against terrorism and major crime but critics say these claims are dishonest and that the investigation shows the lack of regulation in the global surveillance industry.

Agnès Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International, said: “NSO’s spyware is a weapon of choice for repressive governments seeking to silence journalists, attack activists and crush dissent, placing countless lives in peril.

“These revelations blow apart any claims by NSO that such attacks are rare and down to rogue use of their technology. While the company claims its spyware is only used for legitimate criminal and terror investigations, it’s clear its technology facilitates systemic abuse.

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

“Clearly, their actions pose larger questions about the wholesale lack of regulation that has created a wild west of rampant abusive targeting of activists and journalists.

“Until this company and the industry as a whole can show it is capable of respecting human rights, there must be an immediate moratorium on the export, sale, transfer and use of surveillance technology.”

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

 Sky News

© Sky News 2021

Written by: Rother Radio News

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