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United Nations Official Says ‘Red Line’ Has Been Crossed if NSO Malware Allegations True


JULY 19, 2021

LISBON, PORTUGAL – APRIL 29: United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, listens to the meeting introduction before delivering opening remarks while hosting a debate on key human rights issues in the country at ICS. Bachelet voiced her alarm over the allegations of malware use to spy on journalists and human rights activists. – Horacio Villalobos/Getty Images

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet 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,” in regards to the use of military-grade malware from Israel-based NSO Group to spy on journalists, human rights activists and political dissidents, the Associated Press reported.

“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,” Bachelet said in a statement.

She said that given that the 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.”

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Bachelet’s comments came after an investigation by a global media consortium based on leaked targeting data provided further evidence of the malware’s use.

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.

Amnesty also reported that its forensic researchers had determined that NSO Group’s flagship Pegasus spyware was successfully installed on the phone of Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, just four days after he was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018. The company had previously been implicated in other spying on Khashoggi.

NSO Group denied that it ever maintained “a list of potential, past or existing targets.” It called the Forbidden Stories report “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories.”

Bachelet said that “companies involved in the development and distribution of surveillance technologies are responsible for avoiding harm to human rights” and that governments have a duty to protect people from abuses of their right to privacy by companies. She called for better regulation of the sale, transfer and use of surveillance technology.

FILE PHOYO – In this Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020 file photo Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaks during a press conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. The U.N. human rights chief on Monday urged countries to enact “a wide range of reparations measures” as part of efforts to address the legacies of slavery, colonial rule and racial discrimination. Martial Trezzini/Keystone/AP

Courtesy/Source: Newsweek