The United Nations on Monday reiterated its call for better regulation of surveillance technology following a report saying that Israel-made Pegasus spyware was used to monitor activists, journalists and politicians around the world.
“The UN has been calling consistently for better regulations of these cyber activities to make sure that people’s rights, including the rights of activists, the rights of journalists and others, are not violated,” Farhan Aziz Haq, deputy spokesman for the UN secretary-general, said in a response to a question about the explosive report at the regular noon briefing in New York.
“We’ve seen this particular report, and the Secretariat will take any actions that may be required to ensure the security of our (UN) communications systems,” he added.
Meanwhile, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet voiced alarm over the reported use of military-grade malware from Israel-based NSO Group.
“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,” she said in a statement released in Geneva.
Given that software and others “enable extremely deep intrusions into people’s devices, resulting in insights into all aspects of their lives, their use can only ever be justified in the context of investigations into serious crimes and grave security threats,” she said.
“If the recent allegations about the use of Pegasus are even partly true, then that red line has been crossed again and again with total impunity.”
From a list of more than 50,000 cellphone numbers obtained by the Paris-based journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories and the human rights group Amnesty International and shared with 16 news organizations, journalists were able to identify more than 1,000 individuals in 50 countries who were allegedly selected by NSO clients for potential surveillance.
They include 189 journalists, more than 600 politicians and government officials, at least 65 business executives, 85 human rights activists and several heads of state, according to The Washington Post, a consortium member. The journalists work for organizations including The Associated Press, Reuters, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Le Monde and The Financial Times.
In Washington, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent watchdog body, reaffirmed its call for immediate action by governments and companies around the world to stem abuse of powerful technology that can be used to spy on the press.
“This report shows how governments and companies must act now to stop the abuse of this spyware which is evidently being used to undermine civil liberties, not just counter terrorism and crime,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy executive director.
“No one should have unfettered power to spy on the press, least of all governments known to target journalists with physical abuse and legal reprisals,” he added.