A new interactive platform maps, for the first time, the global reach of cyber-surveillance company NSO Group’s notorious spyware Pegasus.
Based on new research by Amnesty International and partners, including Citizen Lab, the online platform is one of the most comprehensive databases on NSO-related activities with information about export licenses, alleged purchases, digital infections, and the physical targeting of activists after being targeted with spyware, including intimidation, harassment, and detention.
The platform created by Forensic Architecture also sheds light on the complex corporate structure of NSO Group.
‘Digital Violence: How the NSO Group Enables State Terror’ documents digital attacks against human rights defenders around the world, and shows the connections between the ‘digital violence’ of Pegasus spyware and the real-world harms lawyers, activists, and other civil society figures face.
“The investigation reveals the extent to which the digital domain we inhabit has become the new frontier of human rights violations, a site of state surveillance and intimidation that enables physical violations in real space,” said Shourideh C. Molavi, Forensic Architecture’s Researcher-in-Charge.
Targeted surveillance is a serious threat facing human rights defenders globally. Though often carried out by states, this practice is enabled by digital surveillance tools provided by private companies.
NSO Group is a major player in the shadowy surveillance industry. The company’s Pegasus spyware has been used in some of the most insidious digital attacks on human rights defenders. When Pegasus is surreptitiously installed on a person’s phone, an attacker has complete access to a phone’s messages, emails, media, microphone, camera, calls and contacts.
“For years, NSO Group has shrouded its operations in secrecy and profited from working in the shadows. This platform brings to light the important connections between the use of its spyware and the devastating human rights abuses inflicted upon activists and civil society,” said Danna Ingleton, Deputy Director of Amnesty Tech.
Little is known about the surveillance industry, as it operates from the shadows despite repeated calls for more transparency and accountability. This lack of transparency is a foundational challenge to human rights accountability.
Edward Snowden narrates an accompanying video series which tell the stories of human rights activists and journalists targeted by Pegasus. The interactive platform also includes sound design by composer Brian Eno. A film about the project by award-winning director Laura Poitras will premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival later this month.
“NSO Group is the worst of the worst in selling digital burglary tools to players who they are fully aware actively and aggressively violate the human rights of dissidents, opposition figures, and journalists,” said Edward Snowden, President of Freedom of the Press Foundation.
Amnesty International’s Security Lab and Citizen Lab have repeatedly exposed the use of NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to target hundreds of human rights defenders across the globe. Amnesty International is calling on NSO Group to urgently take steps to ensure that it does not cause or contribute to human rights abuses, and to respond when they do occur..
In October 2019, Amnesty International revealed that Moroccan academic and activist, Maati Monjib’s phone had been infected with Pegasus spyware. He continues to face harassment by the Moroccan authorities for his human rights work. In December 2020, Maati Monjib was arbitrarily detained before being released on parole on March 23, 2021.
Maati Monjib, tells his story in one of the short films, and spoke of the personal toll following the surveillance, “The authorities knew everything I said. I was in danger. Surveillance is very harming for the psychological wellbeing of the victim. My life has changed a lot because of all these pressures.”
Amnesty International is calling for all charges against Maati to be dropped, and the harassment against him and his family by the Moroccan authorities to end. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)