“Various parts of the UN human rights system, including my own office, have repeatedly expressed serious concerns about the dangers of authorities using surveillance tools from various sources believed to promote public safety to hack into the phones and computers of people who are legitimate journalists. activities, monitoring human rights or expressing dissent or political opposition,” High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.
According to reports, the allegations of Pegasus data leaks surfacing this weekend through a consortium of media organizations suggest widespread and ongoing misuse of the software, which manufacturers insist is intended only for use against criminals and terrorists.
The Pegasus malware infects electronic devices, allowing operators of the tool to obtain messages, photos and emails, record conversations and even activate microphones, according to the consortium’s reporting. The leak contains a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers allegedly among those identified as interesting individuals by customers of the company behind Pegasus, including some governments.
Surveillance software has been linked to the arrest, intimidation and even murder of journalists and human rights defenders, according to the senior UN official.
Reports of surveillance also create fear and cause people to censor themselves.
“Journalists and human rights defenders play an indispensable role in our societies, and when they are silenced, we all suffer,” she said, reminding all states that surveillance measures can only be justified in precisely defined circumstances if necessary and in proportionate to a legitimate aim.
Given that Pegasus spyware, “as well as those created by Candiru and others, enables extremely deep intrusions into people’s devices, resulting in insight into all aspects of their lives,” the UN chief of rights underlined, “its use can only be justified in the context of serious crime investigations and serious security threats.”
If recent accusations of using Pegasus are even partially true, she claimed the “red line has been crossed time and again with impunity.”
Companies that develop and distribute surveillance technologies are responsible for preventing human rights violations, she said, and they must take immediate steps to reduce and repair the damage their products cause or contribute to the damage their products cause, and they must conduct “human rights research” to ensure they no longer play a role in “such catastrophic consequences” now or in the future.
States also have a duty to protect individuals from corporate privacy rights violations, she added.
An important step in this direction is for states to require by law that companies fulfill their human rights responsibilities by becoming more transparent in their design and use of products and by introducing effective accountability mechanisms.
Key to Better Regulation
Reports also confirm “the urgent need to better regulate the sale, transfer and use of surveillance technologies and ensure strict supervision and authorization.”
Governments should not only immediately stop using surveillance technologies in ways that violate human rights, but also “take concrete actions” to protect against such invasions of privacy by “distributing, using and exporting surveillance technology created by others.” regulate,” the High Commissioner said.
With no human rights-compliant regulatory frameworks, Ms Bachelet insisted there are “just too many risks” that the tools could be used to intimidate critics and silence dissent.