Israeli spyware facilitates human rights violations
Available in French/Français
In July 2021, Amnesty International in collaboration with tens of journalists and scholars exposed how the Israeli NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware facilitated “human rights violations around the world on a massive scale.” Dictatorships and authoritarian regimes have employed Pegasus, a military-grade cyber weapon, to target 50,000 people, including lawyers, human rights activists, opposition politicians, diplomats, as well as climate justice and women’s rights advocates. This Israeli spyware has also enabled the brutal murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul and countless other cases of arrests, torture and killings.
Palestinian civill society has issued an urgent call for a ban on all spyware, including NSO’s Pegasus.
Israeli spyware companies such as NSO Group hire graduates of Israeli military intelligence units who use illegal mass surveillance to blackmail Palestinians, sow divisions and distrust, and sell the tools which have been developed to maintain Israeli apartheid to the worst violators of human rights around the world as “field tested.”
The NSO Group itself has admitted it receives permissions from the Israeli ministry of defense for each sale to any of its customers. This means that successive Israeli governments have authorized and licensed the sale of NSO’s spyware to the Saudi regime, the authoritarian government of Hungary, to the security forces who silence the investigators into the disappearance of 43 students in Mexico, as well as to unknown parties that have used Pegasus to spy on South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, French president Emmanuel Macron, the UK government, the Catalan independence movement, US diplomats in Uganda, and many more.
In November 2021, for instance, it was exposed that Pegasus was used to spy on six Palestinian civil society organizations. Despite the surveillance, the Israeli authorities could not come up with any evidence to support its smears against those organizations, but they nevertheless banned them.
Marwa Fatafta of AccessNow said on July 12th 2022 that “We heard NSO Group repeatedly claim […] that it’s notorious spyware Pegasus is used to save lives, fight terrorism and crack down on criminal activity, yet it failed to bring even one example where it was the case.”
The Israeli apartheid regime and the private companies which sell spyware around the world are strongly connected. Exporting the technology of oppression turns Israeli apartheid into a global threat.
Unless we act now to stop this spyware technology and ban it altogether, unless the right to privacy, so necessary for the work of lawyers, journalists and human rights defenders, is protected, none of us is safe. We will not be safe until the criminals who profit from spyware are brought to justice, the only thing that will prevent additional companies from attempting to profit from these crimes.
Israel uses Pegasus and similar spyware as a diplomatic tool to buy votes at the UN and to secure military alliances and arms deals.
We demand not only that spyware be banned and that the companies which profit from cyber weaponry be shut down. We also demand that the source code of the spyware be published, so that tech companies can protect their consumers from spyware which has already been distributed to authoritarian regimes and to prevent new companies from selling spyware under new names.
The growing international scandal around the Israeli NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, used by dictatorships and authoritarian regimes in perpetrating numerous crimes and human rights violations, is only the tip of the iceberg. For years, Israel and its high-tech companies have been exporting spyware and other intrusive surveillance technology across the globe, including to some of the most ruthless regimes.
We call on justice movements, progressive organizations, and people of conscience around the world to:
- Join us in campaigning to ban cyber-surveillance and to end its role in the violation and erosion of human and civic rights.
- Stop the NSO Group's dirty - and deadly - business across the globe.
- Call for an end to military and security relations with apartheid Israel.
Beyond spyware, Israeli technology of surveillance and oppression is wide reaching. It includes facial recognition software and hardware, smart-cities and many other digital tools of oppression, and not only spyware. Tech companies are keen to capitalize on the technology developed by the Israeli military and to integrate it into their research and production chains, as well as to profit from Israeli demand for technological means to maintain its apartheid system.
In May 2021, as the Israeli military occupation forces bombed Palestinian homes, clinics, and schools in besieged Gaza and threatened to push Palestinian families from their homes in occupied Jerusalem, Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud executives signed a $1.22 billion contract to provide cloud technology to the Israeli government and military, known as Project Nimbus.
Civil society groups and people of conscience are organizing to demand that the companies end the Project Nimbus contract. The No Tech for Apartheid campaign heeds the call from Palestinian civil society to end business and institutional complicity with apartheid Israel. Technology should be used to bring people together, not enable apartheid, ethnic cleansing and settler-colonialism.
The campaign is growing and being taken on by workers and shareholders of the two companies, community organizers and students. Activists organize on campuses to challenge profiteering by Google as well as the recruitment of students by Amazon and Google. Student organizing focuses on building intersectional alliances, bringing together Palestine solidarity struggles with struggles for workers rights and those against digital colonialism and militarization of our societies through technology.
Read more about the campaign here: https://www.notechforapartheid.com/
As prime minister of apartheid Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu visited some of the world’s most notorious authoritarian regimes and far-right governments, including those of Brazil, Chad, Hungary, Poland, UAE and more. Each one of those visits coincided with - at least an attempt to sign - a contract between the respective country and the NSO Group, the company which sells Pegasus. Each one of those visits also opened new markets and strategic alliances for Israel’s colonial regime.
Spyware began as a tool to maintain Israeli control over Palestinians, but later the Israeli government started selling spyware to oppressive regimes around the world that seek to preserve their own situations of injustice. Through those deals Israeli companies earn money, but more importantly, the Israeli government approves and encourages those deals in order to build an international alliance of right-wing authoritarian regimes.
Racist leaders such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, religious-national fanatic leaders such as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, corrupt militaristic leaders such as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and merciless dictators such as Belarus’s President Alexander Lukashenko are quick to find common ground with the Israeli government. They are eager customers of Israeli spyware as it is a useful tool of repression for them.
Edward Snowden said “If they can do the same thing from a distance, with little cost and no risk, they begin to do it all the time, against everyone who’s even marginally of interest. If you don’t do anything to stop the sale of this technology, it’s not just going to be 50,000 targets. It’s going to be 50 million targets, and it’s going to happen much more quickly than any of us expect.”
The Pegasus project showed that the favored targets of Pegasus-spying are human rights activists and lawyers, journalists and opposition members. Unlike military targets, these people must rely on civilian technology, commercial phones and computers, which are vulnerable to Israeli spyware.
When Israeli spyware became a central pillar of its military exports, the BDS movement was already targeted as a threat to Israeli interests. Offensive cyber technology in the form of spyware has been from the a start a tool to silence the Palestinian liberation movement as well as acts of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom.
When former Israeli anti-BDS minister Gilad Erdan said that Israel will use intelligence techniques to fight the BDS movement, he especially meant the unit 8200 whose graduates founded NSO Group to develop spyware and surveillance against Palestinian human rights activists and international activists for Palestinian rights.
Today we know that not only Palestine-solidarity groups are targeted, but activists for any cause could find that their phones have been hacked.
Even those who trust their own government not to spy on them cannot be safe from Israeli spyware technology, because another state or non-state agency may buy Pegasus or a similar program to spy on them across country borders, as was the case when Morocco purchased Pegasus to spy on French President Emmanuel Macron.
The fight against this technology is a common cause among all journalists around the world who believe in their right to investigate government policies, among all activists for justice and human rights and among all lawyers who believe in attorney-client privilege as a basic right.
The following links provide useful, reliable and comprehensive information on Israeli spyware technology:
- Amnesty International
- Forbidden Stories
- Citizen Lab report on Pegasus
- Citizen Lab report on Circles
- Citizen Lab report on Predator
- The European Union
- The Guardian
- The Nation call to ban spyware
- New York Review of Books article on Israeli export of the technology of occupation
- 7amle report on Supply and Demand
- Global call to ban spyware
- Brochure on spyware
We launched this webpage on the anniversary of the ‘Pegasus Project’ report by Amnesty International, Forbidden Stories and Citizen Lab on July 2021, which exposed the extent of human rights violations through surveillance exercised by NSO Group through its programs Pegasus and Circles, violating the privacy of activists, lawyers, journalists and politicians in 45 countries around the world.
In March, US President Biden signed an executive order to restrict commercial spyware in the U.S, a blow to Israeli spyware companies which monopolize the commercial market for spyware. Shortly threreafter it was exposed, however, that NSO Group formed a shell corporation to continue to sell its harmful spyware to the FBI and other customers in the U.S as soon as it was blacklisted in November 2021, raising doubts over whether the presidential executive order will actually help protect US citizens from spyware.
In the month of November, Greece became the first country in the world to announce a ban on spyware, following multiple scandals in which the Predator spyware by the Israeli company Cytrox was used to spy on politicians and officials.
In July, an Israeli court rejected a lawsuit by Amnesty International against NSO Group, confirming the fact that the Israeli legal system is simply incapable and unwilling to hold those involved in maintaining Israeli apartheid accountable.
In April 2022, in light of multiple cases of spyware being used to spy on democratically elected European officials, the European Parliament launched an investigation into the crimes committed with this spyware.
In August 2021, UN-appointed experts called for a moratorium on the sale of surveillance technology until regulatory frameworks to mitigate the negative impacts of such technology are developed.
Both Facebook (now called Meta) and Apple have launched lawsuits against NSO Group over the hacking of their platforms and their customers. Both companies chose to file their lawsuits with U.S courts.
Following a call out by civil society groups in India, in October 2021, groups and people of conscience from across the world came together to launch efforts against NSO Pegasus as it serves Israel’s apartheid and is used against dissenting voices globally. The campaign demands an end to all spyware trade.
In November 2021, leading international human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch, Access Now, Democracy for the Arab World (DAWN) and others called for implementing a moratorium on the sale, transfer and use of surveillance technology until adequate safeguards are in place. They also called on UN experts to take action as they condemned the use of NSO Pegasus against Palestinian organizations.
Also in November 2021, following the exposure of the use of Pegasus to spy on U.S. diplomats, the U.S Department of Commerce condemned the NSO Group’s “malicious cyber activity,” designating it as a company hostile to U.S interests.
In December 2021, the Israeli authorities claimed to have tightened regulations for the export of spyware by asking for assurances from dictators to “self-regulate” their use of the spyware. An Israeli human rights lawyer wrote that these regulations have “made Israel into one of the world’s main supporters of state-sponsored terror.”
Behind each and every one of these stories, there are dedicated groups of activists who have joined forces to demand accountability and a ban on spyware from their own governments.
The company NSO Group as well as some other companies in the Israeli spyware sector are in crisis. Their reach and capacity to do harm and make profits have been impacted by effective activism leading to more governmental scrutiny. But more needs to be done in order to effect a clear policy change, bring perpetrators to justice and ensure that the entire spyware sector will be shut down for good.
Although civil society actors, journalists, human rights activists and even some governments have protested the reckless and ruthless use of spyware by NSO Group (and other Israeli cyber espionage companies), the company continues to receive licenses from the Israeli government to sell its military-grade products and services worldwide, facilitating war crimes and mass repression.
Palestinian civil society is calling for a ban on spyware technology altogether. It is a technology which puts too much power in the hands of authorities and contains no safeguards against abuse of this power.
Spread the Word
Pressure your government
Do military, law enforcement or intelligence authorities in your country use NSO Group Pegasus, Circles or similar spyware technology? In solidarity with Palestinians and to protect your safety and that of your loved ones, make sure that your elected officials know that choosing to import Israeli spyware is a declaration of intent to practice mass surveillance, human rights violations and repression, pressure them to ensure the end of the usage of such technology and that those responsible for such actions will be held legally accountable.
Join a campaign
Each country in which Israeli spyware has been used already has a civil liberties group demanding to ban spyware, or is in urgent need of such an initiative.