Former Congress President Rahul Gandhi, Former Election Commissioner Ashok Lhasa, several Ministers and Journalists in India appeared on a list of “potential targets” for spying by the Pegasus spyware, a report that has now shocked the country. With reports coming out, the UN Human Rights raised concern over the unethical and illegal activity.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that the apparent widespread use of Pegasus spy software to illegally undermine the rights of those under surveillance, including journalists and politicians, was “extremely alarming”. It confirmed “some of the worst fears” surrounding the potential misuse of such technology, she added.
Apart from the leaks in India, reports said that more than 50,000 phone numbers, which reportedly belong to those identified as people of interest, by clients of the company behind Pegasus, including some governments, have been leaked.
“Various parts of the UN Human Rights system, including my own Office, have repeatedly raised serious concerns about the dangers of authorities using surveillance tools from a variety of sources supposed to promote public safety in order to hack the phones and computers of people conducting legitimate journalistic activities, monitoring human rights or expressing dissent or political opposition”, she said in a statement.
The UN Official noted that surveillance software has been linked to the arrest, intimidation and even killing of journalists and human rights defenders. “Reports of surveillance also trigger fear and cause people to censor themselves. Journalists and human rights defenders play an indispensable role in our societies, and when they are silenced, we all suffer”, she said, reminding all States that surveillance measures can only be justified in narrowly defined circumstances when necessary and proportional to a legitimate goal,” she said.
“I would like to remind all States that surveillance measures can only be justified in narrowly defined circumstances, with a legitimate goal. And they must be both necessary and proportionate to that goal,” she pointed out.
“Given the fact that Pegasus spyware, as well as that created by Candiru and others, enable extremely deep intrusions into people’s devices, resulting in insights into all aspects of their lives, their use can only ever be justified in the context of investigations into serious crimes and grave security threats. If the recent allegations about the use of Pegasus are even partly true, then that red line has been crossed again and again with total impunity,” Bachelet said.
The UN said that the companies involved in the development and distribution of surveillance technologies are responsible for avoiding harm to human rights. It also said that the companies need to take immediate steps to mitigate and remedy the harms their products are causing or contributing to, and carry out human rights due diligence to ensure that they no longer play a part in such disastrous consequences, and avoid being involved in similar future scenarios.
“In addition to immediately stopping their own role in violations of human rights, States have a duty to protect individuals from abuses of the right to privacy by companies. One key step to effectively prevent abuse of surveillance technology is for States to require by law that the companies involved meet their human rights responsibilities, are much more transparent in relation to the design and use of their products, and put in place more effective accountability mechanisms,: the UN Human Rights official said.
The UN Human Rights called for “better regulation” of the sale, transfer and use of surveillance technology and ensure strict oversight and authorisation.
The Governments should immediately cease their own use of surveillance technologies in ways that violate human rights, and should take concrete actions to protect against such invasions of privacy by regulating the distribution, use and export of surveillance technology created by others, the UN Body said.
Pegasus malware infects electronic devices, enabling operators to obtain messages, photos and emails, record calls, and even activate microphones.