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Pegasus, an Israeli Surveillance Company, Hacks Journalists’ Phones

Dina Faisal Dina Faisal
21st January 2022
Pegasus, an Israeli Surveillance Company, Hacks Journalists’ Phones
The United States government has blocklisted and sanctioned NSO Group (Getty).

Note: The views and opinions expressed in blog/editorial posts are those of the author. They do not reflect the views or opinions of Misbar.

Journalists conduct research and disseminate important findings that keep people informed and provide a platform for a diverse range of perspectives to be voiced and hold those in positions of authority accountable. Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories, a media non-profit based in Paris, conducted forensic investigations into spyware allegations in 2020. The findings were passed on to the Pegasus Project, a consortium of media organizations that revealed that "repressive" governments were using a specialist spyware called Pegasus, developed by Israeli surveillance company NSO Group, to hack phones particularly those of journalists. Once installed, the software has access to the phone's camera and all data, including listening to phone calls, recording conversations via the microphone, reading messages, viewing the address book, and tracking locations.

Journalists, activists, and politicians were among the approximately 50,000 phone numbers on the list believed to be "of interest" by NSO clients; however, not all of the numbers on the list were confirmed to have been hacked. According to news reports, Israeli police used the spyware to hack their own citizens. In addition to invading privacy, such spyware may expose and compromise journalists' sources, as well as stifle press freedoms. For example, Mexican journalist Cecilio Pineda Birto was on the list after being murdered by gun-wielding assailants one month after his phone was hacked.

Furthermore, authoritarian governments and others have used this spyware "to facilitate massive human rights violations around the world." According to Julia Gavarrete, a Salvadorian journalist whose phone was infected with Pegasus spyware, state surveillance demonstrates that governments are "interested in controlling what is said about them, rather than fighting organized crime." She went on to say that she is cautious and extreme in order to avoid putting her sources in danger and that she needs to put in "even more effort to be able to produce journalism."

The United States government has blocklisted and sanctioned NSO Group, which describes itself as a cyber intelligence for global security and stability that develops best-in-class technology to assist government agencies in detecting and preventing a wide range of local and international threats. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has urged Israel to stop exporting spyware technology. Media organizations advocate for increased actions to protect and promote press freedom, freedom of expression, open government, and open justice. Surveillance groups must be closely monitored and held accountable to ensure that they are not illegally hacking and invading individuals' privacy, thereby jeopardizing their right to privacy and their freedom of press and expression and putting them in real-world danger.

Misbar Sources:

The Guardian 1 
The Guardian 2/
France 24
Institute Al-Jazeera
NSO Group
Al-Jazeera 1 
Al-Jazeera 2
News Media UK
The Verge