An Israeli company called NSO has invented a spyware called Pegasus. It has been purchased by numerous governments. India, Hungary, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are among the customers as per several reports. Pegasus is used to hack into people's computers and phones. This has expedited state espionage.
States, including some in the Middle East, alleged to be snooping in on leaders and organisations have been able to deploy Pegasus to track dissidents, read their correspondence, listen to their calls, access their files and identify their contacts. Pegasus has a chilling effect on free expression and legitimate dissent.
Israel has long been arguing of its being surrounded by hostile countries. As the Israelis have a tiny land area and a population of only 9 million people, they have relied on secret intelligence to give them the upper hand in their many wars. They hark back to the injunction of the Jewish Bible, ''By subterfuge ye shall do battle.'' Mossad (Israeli secret intelligence) is looked at with awe even by its deadly foes. Mossad is known for its adeptness, its global reach, its swiftness and ruthlessness. It has long assassinated Israelis enemies all around the globe.
The sale of Pegasus has perturbed many in the United States. So much so that the US Government has initiated a ban on its sale. The USA put the NSO Group (which is behind Pegasus) on a blacklist. The ground given for this action is that the spyware manufacturer is acting against US foreign policy and national security. This is a headache for the company.
Americans have been victims of this spyware. The spyware has been used against the French President.
The Department of Commerce said that the US promotes human rights and opposes the sale of tech used for oppression.
NSO cannot purchase components from US entities unless it is granted a special dispensation. Candiru is another Israeli surveillance company that has created spyware and sold it. NSO said its tools are only used against criminals and its tech has never been used against Emmanuel Macron. But once it sells its tech, it has no idea what people do with it.
NSO exists with the blessing of the Israeli Government. Many of its employees are former Mossad personnel. There is a symbiosis between Mossad and these spyware companies. Tel Aviv is worried by the US action and has met US officials to intercede on behalf of the company. The Israeli Government has sought to say that it has no connection with Israeli spyware companies. A likely story! NSO is vigorously lobbying for the US ban's rescission. The company claims Pegasus is used against terrorists. That is true, but it is also used against peaceful dissidents.
NSO said it has ended contracts with entities that have misused its products. That disproves its claim that the technology has only been used against terrorists.
Citizen Lab and Amnesty International have proven countless instances of Pegasus being used in furtherance of oppression. Oppressive regimes use it to identify dissentients and then throw them into dank dungeons for torture sessions.
WhatsApp and Microsoft have long campaigned for spyware to be outlawed, except for use by reputable law enforcement agencies. The communication companies argue that spyware jeopardises their customers. In 2019 alone, Pegasus was used against 1 400 WhatsApp users – so said WhatsApp in a civil action.
George Callaghan is a political analyst based in the UK