In light of its targeting by Pegasus, Human Rights Watch calls on countries to urgently stop the trade in surveillance technology

Human Rights Watch said that the targeting of one of its prominent employees with the spyware “Pegasus” software underscores the urgent need to regulate the global trade in surveillance technology.

It called on countries around the world to ban the sale, export, transfer and use of surveillance technology until human rights guarantees are applied.

Lama Fakih, director of the Crisis and Conflict Division and director of the Beirut office at Human Rights Watch, was targeted with Pegasus spyware five times between April and August 2021.

Pegasus is spy software developed and sold by Israel-based NSO Group. The software is surreptitiously downloaded to cell phones, and once installed on the device, it can be turned into a powerful monitoring tool with full access to the camera, calls, photos, videos, microphone, email, text messages, and other features, allowing monitoring of the target person and their contacts. .

“Governments use spyware developed by NSO Group to monitor and silence human rights defenders, journalists, and others who expose abuses,” said Debra Brown, senior digital rights researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch. And she stressed that “allowing them to operate with impunity with conclusive evidence of violations not only undermines the efforts of journalists and human rights organizations to hold those in power accountable, but also puts those trying to protect them at grave risk.”

Fakih, a Lebanese American, oversees crisis response in countries such as Syria, Myanmar, Israel and Palestine, Greece, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and the United States. This includes documenting and exposing human rights violations and serious international crimes during armed conflicts, humanitarian disasters, and severe social or political unrest. Human Rights Watch said that this action may have attracted the attention of various governments, including some suspected NSO agents.

“It is no coincidence that governments use spyware to target activists and journalists who expose their abusive practices. They seem to believe that this helps them consolidate their power, silence dissent, and protect their manipulation of facts,” Fakih said.

Human Rights Watch’s targeting of Pegasus adds to the ever-growing list of human rights activists, journalists, politicians, diplomats, and others whose devices have been hacked by spyware in violation of their rights.

A few days ago, the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, said that it had obtained a confirmed list of all the victims targeted by the Israeli-made Pegasus spyware, including 34 Al-Jazeera journalists.

The newspaper stated that the list of confirmed victims of the program includes individuals from several countries, including journalists, media professionals, human rights defenders, lawyers, activists and political figures, as well as Mexican drug lords.

In July 2021, a joint project coordinated by Forbidden Stories – a Paris-based non-profit media organization – and with technical support from Amnesty International revealed; The Pegasus software was used to hack the devices of dozens of activists, journalists, and opposition figures in various countries. The joint venture identified potential clients for NSO in Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Togo and the United Arab Emirates.

During the past three months alone, investigations revealed that Pegasus had used Pegasus to hack the devices of 6 Palestinian human rights activists, 4 Kazakh civil society activists, 11 officials of the US Embassy in Uganda, two Polish opposition figures, a member of an independent United Nations human rights investigation team in Yemen, and an activist A human rights defender in Bahrain, a human rights activist in Jordan, and 35 journalists and members of civil society in El Salvador, among others.

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