Targeted surveillance (or targeted interception) is a form of surveillance, such as wiretapping, directed towards specific persons of interest and is distinguishable from mass surveillance (or bulk interception). Both untargeted and targeted surveillance is routinely accused of treating innocent people as suspects in unfair ways, of violating human rights, international treaties and conventions, as well as national laws, and of failing to pursue security effectively.
–Definition by Wikipedia
Repressive governments use this type of surveillance to silence journalism, attack activists, and crush innocents, placing countless lives at stake.
The ‘Pegasus Project’ is an investigation conducted by more than 80 journalists from 17 media organizations in 10 countries with the technical support of Amnesty International’s Security Lab, who conducted advanced tests on mobile phones including ‘high-end security- iPhones’ to identify traces of spyware.
One of the Cyber Intelligence companies located in the Middle East, which ‘creates technology that helps government agencies prevent and investigate terrorism and crime to save thousands of lives around the globe,’ uses spyware to facilitate human rights violations worldwide scale. As per the investigation, over 50,000 contact numbers have been the targets of the potential surveillance. This leaked data is being provided to potential clients in 11 countries: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Togo, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The ‘Pegasus spyware’ attempted ‘zero-click attacks which do not require any interaction from the target. Across the numerous forensic analyses conducted by Amnesty International on devices worldwide, they found a consistent set of malicious process names executed on compromised phones. Most Pegasus process names seem to be disguised to appear as legitimate iOS system processes. Amnesty International confirmed that thousands of iPhones were listed as potential targets for Pegasus spyware, though it was impossible to confirm how many were successfully hacked.
Thousands of Google Android phones were also selected for targeting, but unlike iPhones, their operating systems do not keep accessible logs useful for detecting Pegasus spyware infection. Among the Apple products successfully infected were the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 models, equipped with the latest updates, which were believed to have high levels of security.
One of the victims of ‘Pegasus spyware ’ is Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Who was targeted by spyware before and after his murder in Istanbul on 2 October 2018 by Saudi operatives? Amnesty International’s security lab established that Pegasus spyware was successfully installed on the phone of Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz just four days after his murder.
The investigation has identified at least 180 journalists in 20 countries selected for potential targeting with spyware between 2016 to June 2021, including in Azerbaijan, Hungary, India, and Morocco, countries where crackdowns against independent media have intensified.
In India, at least 40 journalists from nearly every major media outlet in the country were selected as potential targets between 2017-2021. Forensic tests revealed the phones of Siddharth Varadarajan and MK Venu, co-founders of independent online outlet The Wire, were infected with Pegasus spyware as recently as June 2021.
Surveillance on citizens has no place in a democracy. So the overall violations of human rights caused by Pegasus must be investigated by the local authority, and strict actions must be taken. The extensive surveillance by governments and private firms to eliminate their opposition and suppress the voice against them should be stopped, and the morals of human rights should be followed.