A report, recently released by UK newspaper The Guardian, revealed that Israeli spyware was sold to authoritarian regimes worldwide to target activists, politicians, and journalists.
The investigatory report was reached by the Guardian and 16 other media organisations.
According to the report, a list of more than 50,000 numbers are believed to have been of interest to clients of the Israeli surveillance company NSO Group since 2016.
The Israeli company insists that the Pegasus program is only intended for use against criminals and terrorists.
However, the report confirmed that it is used to target human rights activists, journalists, and lawyers worldwide.
The report revealed that Pegasus, a sophisticated surveillance tool developed by the Israel company, infects the user’s smartphone and steals all the phone’s information, including every contact name and phone number, text message, email, Facebook message, everything from Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, WeChat and Telegram.
“The scale is staggering compared with anything we have seen before,” Bill Marczak, a research fellow at cyberspace research group Citizen Lab, told Al Jazeera. He noted that a previous expose had uncovered the hacking of about 1,400 numbers.
The latest list did not identify the clients but the reports said many were clustered in 10 countries – Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“The surveillance industry works under a cloud of darkness – its products are designed to deceive and skirt culpability,” Natalia Krapiva, Tech Legal Counsel at Access Now, told Al Jazeera.
Yet we ask ourselves, ‘how could something like this happen?’ Spyware companies simply cannot be trusted to hold themselves accountable. This story, along with the recent revelations of abuses by Cellebrite and Candiru, is another example of why we urgently need to hold these surveillance companies and the governments that use them up to the light.
“The industry has shown that it is incapable of policing itself, and governments are hiding behind national security to excuse these surveillance abuses. We need regulation, transparency, and accountability and we need them now,” she told Al Jazeera.