POLITICS & INSTITUTIONS - POLITICS

Surveillance

NGOs call on EU to ban spyware company NSO



Addressing themselves to the EU’s high representative Josep Borrell, the NGOs called for the Israeli tech company to be designated in the bloc’s human rights sanctions regime.  Photo: Shutterstock.

Addressing themselves to the EU’s high representative Josep Borrell, the NGOs called for the Israeli tech company to be designated in the bloc’s human rights sanctions regime.  Photo: Shutterstock.

In a joint letter, 86 organisations demanded that the EU blacklists the NSO group whose surveillance software Pegasus may have been used by governments to spy on journalists and dissidents. 

Addressing themselves to the EU’s high representative Josep Borrell, the NGOs called for the Israeli tech company to be designated in the bloc’s human rights sanctions regime. This framework allows the EU to target individuals, entities, and bodies and to introduce sanctions.

The EU’s rights sanction regime is designated to act against entities responsible for violations of serious concern regarding the objectives of the common foreign and security policy. “These rights have been repeatedly violated using NSO technology,” say the signatories of the joint letter, including Amnesty international and Human Rights Watch.

An investigation dubbed the Pegasus Project, involving more than 80 reporters from 17 media organisations in ten countries revealed that the Pegasus software had been used to target journalists, human rights activists, and other members of civil society.

The alleged use by the Hungarian government of the Pegasus software to target critics of prime minister Viktor Orbán had recently become a cause for concern in Brussels. However, other EU countries are also believed to have access to the software.

In October, Luxembourg prime minister Xavier Bettel appeared to initially confirm that the grand duchy had purchased Pegasus. He later backtracked in answer to a parliamentary question with the official document stating that “the prime minister, minister of state, referred in a general manner to the purchase of such a tool under the given conditions”. 

In Luxembourg secret services are allowed to use surveillance tools under certain conditions. For example, a committee of three judges must normally approve surveillance operations followed by the prime minister’s agreement.

The NSO group has denied all allegations voiced by human rights NGOs so far and maintains that its technology is meant to only be used against serious criminals and terrorists.