The UN criticizes espionage against journalists, politicians and activists and calls for an immediate end to the practices, as well as the creation of clear rules on the use of technology and the sale of systems.
This Sunday, some of the world’s leading newspapers revealed how politicians, lawyers, human rights activists, reporters, columnists and editors from around the world were targets of possible espionage through software created by an Israeli company.
At least 180 journalists were on a list obtained by the international press and which reveals the interest of clients in spying on these journalists’ phones.
Pegasus software was created by the NSO group from Israel. According to publications such as “The Washington Post”, “The Guardian” and “Le Monde”, a list of up to 50,000 phone numbers may have been targeted by the system over the past five years. The documents were initially obtained by Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories.
Not all of these numbers were ever hacked. But the list includes media professionals like “The Wall Street Journal”, CNN, “The New York Times”, Al-Jazeera, France 24, Radio Free Europe, Mediapart, “El País”, Associated Press, “Le Monde”, Bloomberg, “The Economist”, Reuters and Voice of America.
“Revelations about the apparent widespread use of 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 undermine illegally the human rights of people,” said Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
In May, UOL exclusively revealed how Carlos Bolsonaro rehearsed the purchase of the same equipment. The tender in question was No. 03/21, of the Ministry of Justice, in the amount of R$ 25.4 million. The president’s son’s lobby opened a rift between Planalto and part of Brazilian intelligence. Carlos Bolsonaro, at the time, made fun of the report.
“Revelations about the apparent widespread use of 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 undermine illegally the human rights of people.
In reaction to the revelations, Bachelet criticized the practices of governments. “Several parts of the United Nations human rights system, including my own office, have repeatedly raised serious concerns about the dangers of authorities using surveillance tools from various sources supposedly to promote public safety in order to hack phones and computers of people conducting legitimate journalistic activities, monitoring human rights or expressing political dissent or opposition,” he said.
“The use of surveillance software has been linked to the arrest, intimidation and even murder of journalists and human rights defenders,” said the Chilean. According to her, surveillance also has the effect of making people censor themselves out of fear. “Journalists and human rights defenders play an indispensable role in our societies, and when they are silenced, we all suffer,” he said.
“I would like to remind all States that surveillance measures can only be justified in strictly defined circumstances, with a legitimate objective. And they must be both necessary and proportionate to that objective,” he said.
According to her, given the “extremely deep intrusions” into cell phones allowed by the software, its use “can only be justified in the context of investigations into serious crimes and serious threats to security.” “If the recent allegations about the use of Pegasus are even partially true, then that red line has been crossed over and over again with complete impunity,” he lamented.
Bachelet also issued a warning to companies involved in the development and distribution of surveillance technologies. According to her, companies “are responsible for avoiding harm to human rights”. “They need to take immediate action to mitigate and remedy the damage their products are causing or contributing to, and to carry out due diligence in the field of human rights to ensure that they no longer play a role in such disastrous consequences, and avoid being involved in similar future scenarios,” he said.
“Beyond the immediate cessation of their own role in human rights violations, States have a duty to protect individuals from corporate abuses of their right to privacy,” he said.
“A key step in effectively preventing the abuse of surveillance technology is for States to require by law that the companies involved fulfill their human rights responsibilities, be much more transparent about the design and use of their products, and enforce effective accountability mechanisms in place,” he added.
UN calls for regulations and immediate end to espionage
Bachelet also defended that the revelations open the space for debate about new rules. According to her, the information “also confirms the urgent need to better regulate the sale, transfer and use of surveillance technology and ensure strict supervision and authorization”.
“Without human rights compliant regulatory frameworks, there is simply too much risk that these tools will be misused to intimidate critics and silence dissent,” he warned.
“Governments must immediately cease their own use of surveillance technologies in ways that violate human rights, and must take concrete steps to protect against such invasions of privacy by regulating the distribution, use and export of surveillance technology created by others” , completed.