Tell world leaders: Ban commercial spyware

Analysis on a recent data leak proves that governments around the world are paying surveillance vendors to hack mobile devices belonging to journalists, activists, and politicians.

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News outlets are reporting on Israeli surveillance company NSO Group’s massive data leak, which reveals that authoritarian governments and militaries around the world are using NSO’s Pegasus spyware to target journalists and activists. Pegasus is smartphone malware that  intercepts messages, records calls, secretly activates microphones, and collects photos and email. Analysis by Amnesty International, Forbidden Stories, and Citizen Lab details the scope and scale of the surveillance.

NSO Group claims that the malware is only sold to verified government agencies, and it’s intended to be used on terrorists and criminals. But those definitions are highly subjective, and far from the truth. NSO’s client list includes repressive governments like Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Hungary, and the United Arab Emirates. 

Over 50,000 phone numbers were listed in the leak, including dozens of numbers belonging to journalists, activists, and politicians. At least 180 journalists around the world are believed to have been targeted by governments and surveilled using Pegasus. Research indicates that Pegasus was used to target the family of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist who was assassinated under orders from the Saudi Arabian government.

These revelations about commercial spyware are just one example of a dangerous reality: governments regularly employ private companies to spy on people. Pegasus is not unique, and it demolishes the narrative that innocent people do not need to worry about surveillance.

We agree with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden: the only solution to the proliferation of commercial spyware is an outright ban on the technology, with no exceptions. Like climate change or nuclear weapons, we need to take the danger of spyware seriously and work together to protect humanity from this oppressive technology. 

Tell world leaders to take action and ban commercial spyware.

LETTER TEXT:

Lawmakers,

Recent revelations prove that countless individuals are being targeted by commercial spyware, including activists, journalists, and politicians. The subject of the leak, Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group, claims that it only sells the spyware to “ethical” governments. But that client list includes notoriously oppressive regimes like Saudi Arabia and Hungary.

Commercial spyware is a threat to human rights, civil liberties, and freedom of expression everywhere. This reality can no longer be denied, and lawmakers need to act now to prevent any further harm from occurring. We are calling on you to implement a ban on commercial spyware technology immediately.