London. July 20, 2021
by William Horsley, AEJ Media Freedom Representative
Despite the denials of the NSO Group and the Israeli authorities, the Pegasus scandal is shocking evidence of the widespread misuse of spyware and malware against journalists and others. It also demonstrates the massive power of the “criminal services industry” that serves corrupt forces including undemocratic governments worldwide.
The technology itself, enabling interception or theft of communications data and remote control over devices, must not be made available for commercial gain and without effective safeguards.
# This practice demonstrates how autocratic states are effectively free to decree themselves — without independent judicial constraints — who is labelled a ‘terrorist’, ‘criminal’ or ‘enemy of the state’, and may then be persecuted with impunity. That is a blatant violation of human rights protections and standards. It cannot be allowed to continue.
# A moratorium must be imposed on the sale of Pegasus and similar technologies to states without the strictest oversight to ensure compliance with international and national law. States which are committed to protecting fundamental rights must act with determination and without discrimination to establish a safety regime to prevent the misuse of spyware technologies.
# All kinds of critical reporting, including the recent sensational media collaborations to reveal the Snowden files and Paradise Papers, will become harder and riskier because governments and businesses will seek to use all-powerful tools like Pegasus to intercept communications to help them to stifle all dissent.
That trend has been graphically seen in China, Iran, and Belarus, as well as in Azerbaijan, Hungary, Rwanda, and Saudi Arabia which are among the states already alleged to have used the Pegasus system. The future of free and democratic societies depends on putting in place effective constraints on this large-scale abuse of state powers.