The Pegasus surveillance tool, from the Israeli company NSO, is a worldwide bestseller because it allows live spying on smartphones and computers. An international investigative team first reported the extent of global espionage on July 18, 2021.
Customers are said to include German government agencies that want to use the spy software to track down suspected terrorists and other criminals. Whether the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) or the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), which is responsible abroad, uses Pegasus as a so-called”state Trojan”, there is neither an official confirmation nor a denial, even a year after the revelations.
The federal government has also refused to provide specific information to Martina Renner (of the La Izquierda party), a member of the Bundestag, and her parliamentary group for a year. The reason often given is that the information “greatly affects the welfare of the state to a particularly high degree”.
Renner expresses his outrage in an interview with DW: “There is still no transparency and I am concerned that the software is still being used.” Among other things, Pegasus can be used to control a laptop’s camera or turn on a mobile phone’s microphone, the parliamentarian describes important features of spyware. The Left party is convinced that this instrument is used by the German security authorities.
The NGO Reporters Without Borders also believes that Pegasus has been acquired by Germany. Helene Hahn, an expert on Internet freedom, considers in DW that the behavior of the current federal government is “undemocratic”. Parliament cannot fulfill its control function if the Federal Ministry of the Interior does not want to provide information on “whether and to what extent Pegasus and other surveillance software are used by the police and secret services,” she says.
According to Reporters Without Borders, the lack of transparency undermines Germany’s credibility. The revelations have shown “that these surveillance programs blatantly violate human rights and put those affected in mortal danger around the world.”
The most extreme example is the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Many indications point to Pegasus being used to spy on the victim’s surroundings when planning the crime. Helene Hahn also mentions the alleged use of spy software in European Union (EU) countries. Hungary and Poland are accused of using this surveillance tool to spy on journalists and members of the opposition.
The Pegasus scandal has also reached the courts a long time ago. “Hundreds of surveillance cases are now known,” says Helene Hahn of Reporters Without Borders. The human rights organization has been supporting those affected since October 2021 in the courts of Paris and before the administrative courts in Germany. But those affected are still waiting for a decision.
Just in time for the anniversary of the Pegasus revelations, Reporters Without Borders launches its Digital Security Lab, which helps better prevent the dangers of online surveillance. Target audience: Journalists who fear that their phone or computer is being spied on digitally, infected with a virus, or that one of their accounts has been hacked.