The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has issued a warning about the misuse of scanning technology amid reports of its use spyware to hack the cellphones of human rights activists, business executives and even journalists. Bachelet said the illegal use of these tools could harm human rights and undermine the fabric of democratic societies.
It is not clear to what extent the Pegasus spyware sold by Israeli company NSO Group has been used to spy on journalists, human rights activists, opposition politicians and others. But the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said the disclosure of the phones of about 50,000 people who had been hacked was alarming.
A spokesman for UN High Commissioner Rupert Colville called the information that emerged very disturbing, and said it was probably just the tip of the iceberg. He told VOA that the people whose phones were hacked were not terrorists or ISIS criminals. They are journalists, human rights activists and others who carry out activities legally.
“This is terrible. The potential is severe, and I think it reminds everyone that we need to do something about it. We need to find a way to control it. Bringing the situation back to how it was before because this is potentially very disturbing and in some cases, very dangerous,” he said.
In a statement, Bachelet expressed her doubts about the use of this highly intrusive surveillance tool. He added that the use of this tool can only be justified in cases of criminal investigations and serious security threats.
According to him, even if the recent allegations of using Pegasus are only half true, then another line has been crossed, and even with total impunity.
Colville said the surveillance tools had reportedly been used to detain, intimidate and even kill journalists and human rights activists. He said the potential for abuse of this software is very large and very dangerous.
“You can get people spying on any politician, or any politician to stay in power. And that, of course, is probably the most worrying thing overall. It can be used to subvert democracy, to violate human rights – freedom of expression, freedom of opinion, right to privacy and in extreme cases the right to life.”
Bachelet said the companies that develop and distribute the technology have a responsibility to prevent human rights abuses from occurring. He added, they must immediately take action to mitigate and restore the damage caused to their products.
Bacheles underlined the need for the state to enact the rule of law to hold companies accountable for their illegal use of technology. He also assessed that the state needs to immediately regulate the sale, transfer or transfer, and use of surveillance technology to better ensure that its use is in accordance with human rights law. [em/jm]