The World Today for August 04, 2021



Little Brother

Azerbaijani authorities filmed journalist Khadija Ismayilova in intimate situations in her home in Baku, alleged that she drove a colleague to suicide and charged her with tax fraud. Sentenced to seven years in prison, she was released on bail after 18 months but prohibited from leaving the former Soviet Republic on the Caspian Sea for five years.

When the ban ended, she quickly fled. But she didn’t know that Azerbaijani authorities had installed an Israeli company’s military-grade spyware in her smartphone, according to an investigation that included 17 respected media outlets around the world, the Paris-based journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International.

Ismayilova was one of almost 200 journalists, human rights advocates, businesspeople, politicians and others whose privacy was violated with the technology. For three years, NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware hacked her phone’s contents, including accessing her camera and microphone remotely.

“NSO’s spyware is a weapon of choice for repressive governments seeking to silence journalists, attack activists and crush dissent, placing countless lives in peril,” stated Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard in a statement.

French President Emmanuel Macron was on a list of 50,000 targets for the spyware, Reuters wrote, prompting French prosecutors to launch a probe. The smartphones of family members of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whom Saudi officials killed in Istanbul in 2018, were reportedly monitored, too. The parents of 43 students who disappeared in southwest Mexico in 2014 were also on the list. They had been agitating and petitioning their government to do more to recover their children, wrote the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

Meanwhile, NSO issued a press release disputing the investigation’s findings and initially disputed the charges against the company. Later, it admitted its concern. “We are checking every allegation, and if some of the allegations are true, we will take stern action, and we will terminate contracts like we did in the past,” NSO Chief Executive Shalev Hulio said. “If anybody did any kind of surveillance on journalists, even if it’s not by Pegasus, it’s disturbing.”

Launched from an Israeli kibbutz, the NSO Group is worth more than $1.5 billion, the Washington Post reported. Executives said they would consider closing Pegasus if officials could find a better way to protect national security. But he admitted that NSO does not know what its clients do with its software.

Indian author Arundhati Roy rejected those rationalizations and not just because the company charges maintenances fees for a service that violated the privacy of people exercising their rights. “There has to be something treasonous about a foreign corporation servicing and maintaining a spy network that is monitoring a country’s private citizens on behalf of that country’s government,” she argued in a Guardian opinion piece.

Writing in the Hindustan Times, Zia Haq cited 20th-century French thinker Michel Foucault to explain why the use of the spyware was widespread. Today, information is power, he wrote. It follows that governments will push boundaries to obtain it.

Perhaps governments have the right to do so. They just need to be prepared to be exposed and deal with those consequences.

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