“Various parts of the UN human rights system, including my own office, have repeatedly raised serious concerns about the dangers of government agencies using surveillance tools from a variety of sources designed to promote public safety to hack the phones and computers of those who legitimate acts are engaged in journalistic activities, the monitoring of human rights or the expression of dissenting or political opposition, “said High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet in a statement.
According to reports, the Pegasus data leak allegations surfaced over the weekend by a consortium of media organizations suggest widespread and persistent misuse of the software that the manufacturers insist on and which is only intended for use against criminals and terrorists.
The Pegasus malware infects electronic devices and enables the tool’s operators to check messages, photos and emails, record calls and even activate microphones, the consortium reports. The leak contains a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers that are reportedly among the people identified as people of interest by customers of the company behind Pegasus, including some governments.
Surveillance software has been linked to the arrest, intimidation and even killing of journalists and human rights defenders, the senior UN official said.
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 silenced we all suffer,” she said, reminding all states that surveillance measures can only be justified in well-defined circumstances, if necessary and proportionately to a legitimate goal.
In view of the fact that the Pegasus spyware “and that created by Candiru and others” enable extremely profound interventions in people’s devices, which lead to insights into all aspects of their lives, “the UN chief of law emphasized,” their use can only in the context of investigations into serious crimes and serious security threats. ”
If the latest allegations about Pegasus’s use are even partially true, she claimed that “the red line has been crossed again and again with complete impunity”.
Companies that develop and sell surveillance technologies have a responsibility to prevent human rights violations and must take immediate steps to mitigate and repair the damage their products cause or contribute to and implement “human rights due diligence” to ensure that they do not play a role in “such disastrous consequences” now or in the future.
States also have a duty to protect individuals from corporate privacy violations, she added.
An important step in this direction is for states to mandate that companies comply with human rights obligations by becoming more transparent about the design and use of products and by establishing effective accountability mechanisms.
Key to Better Regulation
Reports also confirm “the urgent need to better regulate the sale, transfer and use of surveillance technology and to ensure strict oversight and approval”.
Not only should governments immediately stop using surveillance technology in ways that violate human rights, but they should also “take concrete steps” to protect themselves from such invasions of privacy by “disseminating, using and exporting the surveillance technology of others Regulate Manufacturers, ”the High Commissioner said.
Without a regulatory framework in line with human rights, Ms. Bachelet confirmed that there are “just too many risks” that the tools could be used to intimidate critics and silence dissenting opinions.