The Guardian and 16 other media organisations brought to light that spyware sold by the surveillance company NSO, Pegasus, has been abused by authoritarian governments to target activists, journalists and politicians globally.
Pegasus is a malware that allegedly can be secretly installed on a targeted phone with just a missed call, enabling to access photos, emails, turn on your cameras, record calls and activate microphones. This makes it more invasive and dangerous than the algorithms of Google, Amazon and Facebook, turning our phone into a spy in our pocket. Spyware as powerful as Pegasus not only threatens the user of each smart-phone, it puts their social, political and economical connections and democracy itself in danger.
A massive data leak contains a list of about 50,000 phone numbers of potential targets identified by NSO’s clients like the governments of Hungary, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Mexico and India. NSO claims to only sell their surveillance technology to governments that have been carefully vetted for their human rights record and for the purpose of tracking terrorists an criminals. Looking at some of the clients one might ask who decides over who these terrorists and criminals are.
In a recent interview with the Guardian whistleblower Edward Snowden states:
The technology cannot be rolled back, technology is not going anywhere … it is going to be cheaper, it is going to be more effective, it is going to be more available. If we do nothing, we sort of sleepwalk into a total surveillance state where we have both a super state that has unlimited capacity to apply force with an unlimited ability to know and [therefore be able to] target [that] force – and that’s a very dangerous combination … This is the direction of the future.
Surveillance technology cannot be rolled back, but it needs to be regulated and legislated. Only social pressure caused by informed citizens has the power to force governments into political action to create the legal boundaries necessary to protect democracy.