Pegasus scandal: United Nations call for global ban on sale of spyware

UN experts say it is highly dangerous and irresponsible to allow surveillance technology to function as a “human rights-free zone”

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United Nations experts have called on all States to impose a global moratorium on the sale and transfer of surveillance technology until they have put in place robust regulations that guarantee its use in compliance with international human rights standards.

These experts are Irene Khan (Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression), Mary Lawlor (Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders), Clement Nyaletsossi Voulé (Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association), UN Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises (known as the Working Group on Business and Human Rights), Surya Deva (Chairperson), Elżbieta Karska (Vice-Chairperson), Githu Muigai, Dante Pesce, and Anita Ramasastry.

Under their press release titled Spyware scandal: UN experts call for moratorium on sale of ‘life threatening’ surveillance tech, dated August 12, the experts say that it is highly dangerous and irresponsible to allow the surveillance technology and trade sector to operate as a “human rights-free zone”.

Concerned about the fundamental principles of privacy and security, their statement reads, “We are deeply concerned that highly sophisticated intrusive tools are being used to monitor, intimidate and silence human rights defenders, journalists and political opponents. 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.”

The experts have reiterated the events that transpired on July 18, 2021, where Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International exposed the widespread surveillance of the mobile devices of hundreds of journalists, human rights defenders and political leaders, using the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. The Israel based NSO Group promptly rejected allegations concerning its involvement in these unlawful practices.

The UN experts further say, “Given the extraordinary audacity and contempt for human rights that such widespread surveillance shows, 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 the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and publish fully the findings of any internal probes it may have undertaken on this issue.” 

They have also urged Israel to disclose what measures it has taken to review NSO export transactions in light of its own human rights obligations. They added, “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 likely to use them to violate human rights.” The experts have also revealed that they are in direct communication with the government of Israel and the NSO group.

The statement also refers to the 2019 report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression (Surveillance and Human Rights), that identifies the problem of targeted surveillance seen from the obligations that human rights law imposes on States and the related responsibilities of companies. This report had also recommended an immediate moratorium on the sale and transfer of surveillance technologies until international regulations incorporating human rights safeguards were adopted. But the international community failed to heed his call.

The report published on May 28, 2019 may be read here:

Lastly, they have recommended 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 also adopt a moratorium on its sale and transfer.

In India, the Supreme Court has posted the matter for hearing on August 16, without issuing a notice to the central government. The Centre has however, clarified that they have not had any transaction with the NSO group.

The entire statement may be read here:



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