REVIEW - Probe Into Contentious Israeli Pegasus Software Raises Concerns Over Privacy Rights

REVIEW - Probe Into Contentious Israeli Pegasus Software Raises Concerns Over Privacy Rights

MOSCOW (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 21st July, 2021) A media exposé of multiple privacy rights abuses by governments using the Israeli Pegasus spyware has prompted international dismay.

Pegasus is sophisticated spyware, developed by Israeli surveillance company NSO Group, capable of infiltrating iPhones and Android devices to extract private data, passwords, emails, messages and photos from encrypted chats, to record calls and to secretly activate microphones and cameras.

NSO group, a worldwide leader in the growing and mostly unregulated private spyware industry, exported Pegasus to governments worldwide and claimed to use the software as a law enforcement tool for preventing terrorist attacks and other serious crime.


The probe carried out by a consortium of media outlets in cooperation with several NGOs proved just the opposite, however. On Sunday, the investigation exposed a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers of prominent individuals worldwide targeted for surveillance by state-linked clients of the Israeli firm. The probe was reportedly based on some leaked data from NSO Group servers.

When analyzing the list, journalists managed to identify at least 1,000 number holders from over 50 countries, including several members of Arab royal families, 85 human rights advocates, 189 reporters, and over 600 politicians and government officials, some heads of state, prime ministers, and even two women who were close to Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

Among the owners of targeted cellphones are reporters from CNN, The Associated Press, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, France's Le Monde, as well as other outlets.

Pegasus developer, NSO group, rejected the allegedly abusive use of the software by its government clients.

"The claims that the data was leaked from our servers, is a complete lie and ridiculous... 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," the company said in its rebuttal statement, stressing that the tech is exported "solely to law enforcement and intelligence agencies of vetted governments for the sole purpose of saving lives through preventing crime and terror acts.



In response, international organizations, NGOs, activist groups and individuals worldwide have expressed their concerns over privacy right violations and called for specific measures.

The United Nations urged stricter regulation of surveillance technology.

"Without human rights-compliant regulatory frameworks there are simply too many risks that these tools will be abused to intimidate critics and silence dissent," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said on Monday.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a independent American nonprofit organization which promotes freedom of press, called for a spyware reform that would make such technologies as Pegasus unavailable to "governments known to target journalists with physical abuse and legal reprisals."

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a nonprofit NGO with consultant status at the UN, is considering legal action against NSO Group.

"We will do everything to ensure that #NSO is punished for the crimes it has committed and the tragedies it has made possible," RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire wrote on Twitter.

NSO's Pegasus spyware has been under fire several times in the past. Various rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Citizen Lab, have exposed the ways in which Pegasus was used to invade the privacy of lawful individuals, disproving the claim of its creators at NSO that it was sold only to governments to tackle terrorists and criminals. WhatsApp and Facebook first filed a lawsuit in California in 2019, alleging that NSO Group had hacked into its servers to infect 1,400 phones of WhatsApp users, and RSF joined the suit.