The real threat is that spy tools like Pegasus will become a political routine – 3/8/2021 – Ian Bremmer

An Israeli company called NSO Group has created spyware called Pegasus that gives its users the extraordinary ability to monitor and steal secrets from anyone who owns a smartphone.

NSO Investigation Reports and Publicity Materials Reveal Pegasus Can Listen to Phone Calls and Voicemail Messages, Track Device Owner’s Current Location and Movements, Steal Passwords, and Collect Emails , videos and browsing history. You can even activate cameras or microphones on the target phone to capture new images and make new recordings.

The phone can be infected without its owner touching it, and even Apple’s security protections included in the latest generation of iPhones don’t always detect it, according to a report from the Washington Post, Amnesty International and other citizen advocacy groups. The software is believed to target criminals, terrorists, and other potential threats to society.

But an investigation by Amnesty and Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based nonprofit, found that clients of the government’s ONS used Pegasus to hack at least 37 phones belonging to journalists and activists during over the past five years. ONS director Shalev Hulio said he was upset that his company’s clients had done this, but denies the accusation that the ONS is linked to a list of 50,000 potential targets cited in the Forbidden Stories / Amnesty report. ONS admits to having 60 government clients in 40 countries.

Several of these countries are already facing political problems. Unsurprisingly, the Israeli government faces reputational damage. The NSO group is not part of its state security service, but was founded by former Israeli government hackers who migrated to the private sector, and its current relationship with the country’s security services is one source. embarrassment. Many American tech companies are under pressure from their employees to refuse cooperation and contracts with companies that abuse privacy and governments that allow them to operate.

The Saudi government is accused of using ONS spyware to monitor people close to Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, murdered in Istanbul, and Turkey’s official investigation into the crime. The Pegasus newspaper is bringing this story back to the front page as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, suspected of sanctioning the assassination, tries to improve relations with Israel. The Saudi government is also accused of using Pegasus to monitor Saudi activists living and working in other countries.

In India, a deadly Covid-19 outbreak has already undermined Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s previously strong political position, and accusations that his government used Pegasus to spy on the opposition and on business leaders, journalists and public officials. foreign diplomats will only make matters worse. As India recovers economically and creates jobs, Modi will be able to limit the political damage, but mistrust between the government, the opposition and local leaders has rarely been higher.

In Mexico, the Pegasus controversy is fueling suspicions that the government will violate the privacy of opposition politicians and journalists if it thinks it can get away with it. The government of former President Enrique Peña Nieto was accused of spying on journalists between 2012 and 2018. It now appears that the current President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, was also under surveillance during this period, a charge which could boost its popularity at some point. in which he threatens to become a “lame duck”. (He is currently in the second half of his term, non-renewable under the Mexican Constitution.)

But the importance of this story goes beyond the consequences in these countries. We shouldn’t be surprised that Pegasus and its future, even more sophisticated versions can target people we wouldn’t consider to be public safety risks. (The threat, as well as the beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.) But the speed at which tech companies are becoming independent players in international politics deserves our attention. The only interests of these companies are theirs and those of their shareholders.

The real threat is not simply that dictatorships can spy on journalists and potential political enemies. This story is very old. This is because, as technological tools become effective, they can become a common part of the political routine. With the intimidating powers they offer, they can be used not only to protect autocrats, but to promote new rules and regulations that restrict freedom and opportunity, in a way that is in principle too common for most. people notice or care.

That is why we should be concerned that “spyware” – and its incremental effects on our lives and our politics – continues to go unnoticed.

Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves

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