Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Today is the LAST DAY of this Mid-Year Campaign. This is our hour of need.
If you value independent journalism, please support Common Dreams.

TODAY is the last day to meet our goal -- Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year.

Protests in India over Pegasus spying and other corruption

Delhi police use water cannons to disperse Congress workers during a protest march to the Parliament against the BJP-led central government policies like the farm laws, Pegasus snooping row, unemployment, inflation, and the handling of the pandemic among other issues on August 5, 2021 in New Delhi, India. (Photo: Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

After Pegasus Exposé, UN Rights Experts Urge Moratorium on 'Life-Threatening' Spyware

"It is highly dangerous and irresponsible to allow the surveillance technology and trade sector to operate as a human rights-free zone."

Jessica Corbett

Echoing calls from advocacy organizations and other surveillance critics after the Pegasus exposé broke last month, a group of United Nations human rights experts on Thursday called for a global moratorium on the sale and transfer of surveillance technology.

"International human rights law requires all states to adopt robust domestic legal safeguards to protect individuals from unlawful surveillance, invasion of their privacy, or threats to their freedom of expression, assembly, and association."
—U.N. experts

In mid-July, a media consortium led by Forbidden Stories, with the technical support of Amnesty International, revealed that the Israeli firm NSO Group's Pegasus spyware has been used to target activists, journalists, and politicians worldwide—sparking moratorium demands.

Three United Nations special rapporteurs—Irene Khan, Mary Lawlor, and Clement Nyaletsossi Voulé—along with a U.N. working group focused on business and human rights, joined that chorus with a long statement on the "life-threatening" technology.

"It is highly dangerous and irresponsible to allow the surveillance technology and trade sector to operate as a human rights-free zone," the U.N. experts warned.

"We are deeply concerned that highly sophisticated intrusive tools are being used to monitor, intimidate, and silence human rights defenders, journalists, and political opponents," they said. "Such practices violate the rights to freedom of expression, privacy, and liberty, possibly endanger the lives of hundreds of individuals, imperil media freedom, and undermine democracy, peace, security, and international cooperation."

Their statement highlighted a 2019 U.N. report in which another human rights expert urged such a moratorium until countries enact human rights protections—as well as the international community's failure to heed that call.

In its initial responses to the Pegasus Project investigation, NSO Group pushed back, telling the consortium that it "firmly denies false claims made in your report which many of them are uncorroborated theories that raise serious doubts about the reliability of your sources, as well as the basis of your story."

By late July, an unnamed source within the NSO Group told NPR that "there is an investigation into some clients. Some of those clients have been temporarily suspended." However, the source did not share which or how many of the company's clients—intelligence agencies, law enforcement bodies, and militaries—were blocked from using the spyware.

The U.N. experts said that they have been in direct contact with both NSO Group and the Israeli government regarding the reporting.

"Given the extraordinary audacity and contempt for human rights that such widespread surveillance shows," they said, "if the denial of collusion by the NSO Group is to have any credibility at all, the company must disclose whether or not it ever conducted any meaningful human rights due diligence in line [with] the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and publish fully the findings of any internal probes it may have undertaken on this issue."

The experts also called on Israel "to disclose fully what measures it took to review NSO export transactions in light of its own human rights obligations," adding that "it is the duty of states to verify that companies like the NSO Group do not sell or transfer technology to or contract with states and entities that are like to use them to violate human rights."

"In recent years we have repeatedly raised the alarm about the danger that surveillance technology poses to human rights," the experts said. "Once again, 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."

"International human rights law," they noted, "requires all states to adopt robust domestic legal safeguards to protect individuals from unlawful surveillance, invasion of their privacy, or threats to their freedom of expression, assembly, and association."

Other advocates for an immediate moratorium on the export, sale, transfer, and use of such surveillance technology include Amnesty International secretary general Agnès Callamard and exiled American whistleblower Edward Snowden, who went even further.

"This is an industry that should not exist," Snowden told The Guardian last month. "The NSO Group is only one company of many—and if one company smells this bad, what's happening with all the others?"


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

TODAY is the last day of our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Biden Urged to Embrace Windfall Tax as Exxon Says Profits Doubled in Second Quarter

"It's time for the president to demand that Congress pass a windfall profits tax on Big Oil and use the revenue to provide rebates to consumers NOW!" wrote Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Jake Johnson ·


Texas Supreme Court Allows Century-Old Abortion Ban to Take Effect

"Extremist politicians are on a crusade to force Texans into pregnancy and childbirth against their will, no matter how devastating the consequences."

Jake Johnson ·


'What's There to Even Discuss?' Omar Says Free, Universal School Meals Should Be Permanent

"We have an opportunity to prove that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people can still deliver big things. And we can feed tens of millions of hungry kids while we do it."

Jake Johnson ·


'Stark Betrayal': Biden Administration Floats New Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling

"This is the third time since November the Biden administration has announced new oil and gas leasing plans on the Friday before a holiday," said one climate advocate. "They're ashamed, and they should be."

Jake Johnson ·


As US Rolls Back Reproductive Rights, Sierra Leone Moves to Decriminalize Abortion

"I'm hopeful today's announcement gives activists in the U.S., and especially Black women given the shared history, a restored faith that change is possible and progress can be made."

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo