Pegasus: rampant data surveillance?
A global investigative journalism project has revealed that governments around the world have used the Israeli Pegasus spy software to spy on journalists, activists and opposition members. Hungarian media workers were also affected. Pegasus manufacturer NSO maintained that the software could only be used to fight crime and terrorism and was only sold to "vetted governments". Such reassurances are not enough for Europe's press.
For Thomas Kaspar, editor-in-chief of the Frankfurter Rundschau, the revelations prove once again how easily digital surveillance systems can take on a life of their own:
“The software was detected on thousands of smartphones without the company even knowing the numbers. The surveillance monster has shaken off its shackles and taken on a life of its own. The Pegasus revelations show how mendacious justifications such as 'fighting terror' or 'fighting paedophilia' are when the only goal is for security authorities to be able to circumvent data protection. The merciless logic of all digital surveillance is: once its rolled out it can no longer be rolled back in again. ... A complete system has taken on a life of its own and is operating outside any and all legal control.”
The Pegasus problem is not actually new, writes Michele Giorgio, Middle East correspondent for Il Manifesto:
“It's been talked about for years. But it's only today that the EU is discovering the insidious nature of Pegasus, the software that the NSO Group - with the approval of the Israeli authorities - sells to governments and regimes around the world to spy on journalists, politicians, opponents and human rights activists. ... Neither reports by international NGOs, revelations, denunciations, nor even the case of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in 2018 by the Saudi secret service with the help of information gathered using Pegasus, has shaken the Western democracies. It has taken the publication of the investigative research in 16 newspapers to provoke a reaction.”
Hungary needs clarity
The Orbán government must explain itself before the parliamentary committee, Népszava demands:
“The justice minister has never granted as many authorisations for the gathering of secret information as it is at present. Apparently, the government is driven by an endless fear that it could lose power. However, the convening of the parliamentary committee for national security is superfluous [according to the ruling party Fidesz]. Nevertheless the questions that must be asked are clear: What was the Israeli spy software doing in Budapest? Who used it, for what, with whose authorisation, against whom, and why? The answers needn't even be made public; it would suffice for them to be given in a closed session.”
Treat spyware manufacturers like arms companies
The Financial Times calls for a ban on exports of Pegasus software, at least for the time being:
“It is time for Israel - a hub for spyware development - to take these allegations seriously. The defence ministry approves exports. The allegations, however, imply that neither the ministry nor the companies pay sufficient heed to how the technology is deployed. The same oversight that is theoretically used for arms sales should apply. Israel should suspend NSO's export licence while the allegations are thoroughly and transparently investigated.”
Hacker paradise Bulgaria gets in on the act
According to media reports, some components of the Pegasus surveillance software were developed in Bulgaria, where the NSO Group has an office. This comes as no surprise, fakti.bg sighs:
“Bulgaria offers hackers peace and impunity. No wonder the local internet specialists no longer emigrate. There's no need. They can cooperate with the whole world via the worldwide web. And if they break the rules - who cares? Certainly not the state. ... Just like for toxic waste from Western Europe, Bulgaria also seems to be a preferred haven for cyber espionage.”