Pegasus scandal: UN experts call for moratorium on sale of surveillance technology

Following the publication on July 18, 2021 of the Pegasus Project, an investigative journalism collaboration led by the Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International, which showed the scale of surveillance that Israeli company, NSO’s Pegasus software was being used for, UN experts have called for a moratorium on the sale of surveillance technology.

In a statement Thursday August 12, 2021, UN human rights experts called on all Stated to impose a global moratorium on the sale and transfer of surveillance technology until they have put in place robust regulations that guarantee its use in compliance with international human rights standards.

The investigative report from a leak of more than 50,000 records of phone numbers that NSO clients selected for surveillance showed that more than 180 journalists were targeted around the world, including two in Togo.

The NSO Group, however, promptly rejected allegations concerning its involvement in these unlawful practices.

“It is highly dangerous and irresponsible to allow the surveillance technology and trade sector to operate as a human rights-free zone,” the experts warned.

“We are deeply concerned that highly sophisticated intrusive tools are being used to monitor, intimidate and silence human rights defenders, journalists and political opponents,” they said.

They argued further that, “such practices violate the rights to freedom of expression, privacy and liberty, possibly endanger the lives of hundreds of individuals, imperil media freedom, and undermine democracy, peace, security and international cooperation.”

The experts cited a report two years ago by the then UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression on the dangerous impact of surveillance technology on human rights which made recommendations for an immediate moratorium on its sale and transfer until international regulations incorporating human rights safeguards were adopted. The international community failed to heed his call, it said.

“Given the extraordinary audacity and contempt for human rights that such widespread surveillance shows, if the denial of collusion by the NSO Group is to have any credibility at all, the company must disclose whether or not it ever conducted any meaningful human rights due diligence in line the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and publish fully the findings of any internal probes it may have undertaken on this issue,” the experts said.

“We also urge Israel, as the NSO Group’s home country, to disclose fully what measures it took to review NSO export transactions in light of its own human rights obligations,” they added. “It is the duty of States to verify that companies like the NSO Group do not sell or transfer technology to or contract with States and entities that are like to use them to violate human rights,” they added.

“International human rights law requires all States to adopt robust domestic legal safeguards to protect individuals from unlawful surveillance, invasion of their privacy or threats to their freedom of expression, assembly and association,” they concluded.

According to the statement, the UN human rights experts are in direct communication with the government of Israel and the NSO group.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

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