Lama Fakih, the US-Lebanese Director of Crisis and Conflict and head of the Beirut office at Human Rights Watch, was targeted with Pegasus spyware five times between April and August 2021. The software was developed and sold by the Israel-based company NSO Group, which has found itself to be in the midst of great controversy over the past several months, specifically this past week.The spyware works undetected on people’s mobile phones. Once the tracking party has uploaded Pegasus to the trackee's device, it enables full access to the phone's camera, calls, media, microphone, email, text messages and location, thereby effectively enabling full digital surveillance of the target as well as their contacts.“Governments are using NSO Group’s spyware to monitor and silence human rights defenders, journalists and others who expose abuse,” said Deborah Brown, HRW's senior digital rights researcher and advocate.
“That it has been allowed to operate with impunity in the face of overwhelming evidence of abuse, not only undermines efforts by journalists and human rights groups to hold power actors to account, but also puts the people they are trying to protect in grave danger,” Brown said.
NSOchairman Asher Levy said he was stepping down this Tuesday, but denied that the move had any connection to the recent developments, according to The Guardian: “Any attempts to present this move as a present-day resignation as a result of any publication related to NSO are completely false.”
“I am full of appreciation to NSO, the life-saving technology it develops, the company’s management and employees, and the unprecedented ethical policies that the company has adopted,” Levy said.
In a statement on Tuesday, NSO said it was a “profitable company” and believed that an international regulatory structure should be put in place to ensure the responsible use of cyber intelligence tools.