Juba, South Sudan,
July 20, 2021 – Organizations championing human rights around the world have raised an alarm over the widespread abuse of the Pegasus Project, a controversial surveillance technology developed by Israeli spyware firm Niv, Shalev and Omri (NSO) Group.
On Monday, Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories – all rights groups – reported that the project-turned spyware has attacked both iPhone and Android devices. Amnesty said iPhone, a brand that boasts for reputation in its privacy and security features, is now at risk.
“Apple prides itself on its security and privacy features, but NSO Group has ripped these apart,” said Danna Ingleton, Deputy Director of Amnesty Tech. “Our forensic analysis has uncovered irrefutable evidence that through iMessage zero-click attacks, NSO’s spyware has successfully infected iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 models. Thousands of iPhones have potentially been compromised,” Ingleton added.
The victims of the spyware, according to Ingleton, have been media personnel, activists, and even politicians. The Director described the phenomenon as a global concern considering Israel’s track record of selling surveillance equipment to governments around the world, including in Africa.
“These attacks have exposed activists, journalists, and politicians all over the world to the risk of having their whereabouts monitored, and their personal information and used against them.
“This is a global concern – anyone and everyone is at risk, and even technology giants like Apple are ill-equipped to deal with the massive scale of surveillance at hand,” said Ingleton.
The Director called out NSO Group saying the firm can no longer hide behind the claim that its spyware is only used to fight crime as initially believed.
“There is overwhelming evidence that NSO spyware is being systematically used for repression and other human rights violations,” she said. “NSO Group must immediately stop selling its equipment to governments with a track record of abusing human rights.”
Ingleton is alarmed that Amnesty’s findings indicate that the surveillance industry is out of control. She called on States to immediately implement a global moratorium on the export, sale, and use of surveillance equipment until a human rights-compliant regulatory framework is in place.
In a separate statement seen by Nyamilepedia, Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the continuous widespread abuse of the Pegasus Project was alarming despite concerns raised over the dangers of the technology.
“Revelations regarding the apparent widespread use of the Pegasus software to spy on journalists, human rights defenders, politicians, and others in a variety of countries are extremely alarming, and seem to confirm some of the worst fears about the potential misuse of surveillance technology to illegally undermine people’s human rights,” Bachelet said.
“Various parts of the UN Human Rights system, including my own Office, have repeatedly raised serious concerns about the dangers of authorities using surveillance tools from a variety of sources supposed to promote public safety to hack the phones and computers of people conducting legitimate journalistic activities, monitoring human rights or expressing dissent or political opposition,” the commissioner added.
According to Amnesty International, NSO Group’s spyware has been used to facilitate human rights violations around the world on a massive scale, according to a major investigation into the leak of 50,000 phone numbers of potential surveillance targets. These include heads of state, activists, and journalists, including slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s family.
In February 2021, Amnesty released a report titled “THESE WALLS HAVE EARS”, in which it discusses the chilling effect of surveillance security in South Sudan. The report also documented the usage of surveillance technology sold by the Israeli government to the South Sudan National Security Service.