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UN experts call for moratorium on surveillance tech sales following Israeli spyware scandal

This file picture shows a smartphone with the website of Israel’s NSO Group, which created the Pegasus spyware. (Photo by AFP)

UN experts have called for an international moratorium on the sale of surveillance technology until regulations are enforced to protect human rights following a scandal surrounding the Israeli-made Pegasus spyware, which reportedly targeted political figures worldwide, including French President Emmanuel Macron.

“It is highly dangerous and irresponsible to allow the surveillance technology and trade sector to operate as a human rights-free zone,” the United Nations human rights experts said in a statement on Thursday.

The statement is signed by three special rapporteurs on rights and a working group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other businesses.

“We urge the international community to develop a robust regulatory framework to prevent, mitigate and redress the negative human rights impact of surveillance technology and pending that, to adopt a moratorium on its sale and transfer,” they said.

The experts urged Israel to “disclose fully what measures it took to review NSO export transactions in light of its own human rights obligations.”

Last month, an international media investigation reported that several governments used the Pegasus malware, created by Israeli firm NSO Group, to spy on activists, journalists and politicians.

Pegasus spyware can infect Apple and Android devices and monitors keystrokes, allowing users to extract messages, photos and emails. Calls can be recorded, while microphones and cameras can be activated covertly.

A list of 50,000 contacts is believed to have been targeted by clients of NSO Group, the creator of Pegasus, since 2016.

Activists, journalists, officials, politicians and business figures from dozens of countries are featured on the list, which has leaked to the press and been covered by a global consortium of news organizations.

In recent years, NSO Group has been accused of allowing repressive regimes to hack people, including those close to murdered dissident Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

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