Digital surveillance / Pegasus: Civil society calls for EU sanctions against NSO Group

Together with more than 80 non-profit organisations and independent experts, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is urging the introduction of EU sanctions against Pegasus manufacturer NSO Group.

In a letter published today to the EU's foreign affairs commissioner Josep Borrell and the foreign ministers of EU member states, the coalition summarises the growing number of allegations against the company and calls for action under the EU's human rights sanctions regime. The EU must take appropriate steps to ban the use and trade of NSO technology until effective human rights protections are in place.

More than 220 journalists have been identified as targeted or confirmed targets of state spying attacks using the spyware since the first Pegasus Project revelations in July. The German government has so far maintained its use of Pegasus, including by the Federal Intelligence Service. The US Department of Commerce, on the other hand, took concrete steps in November and placed NSO Group and another Israeli surveillance technology company on a sanctions list.

"Evidence is mounting that NSO Group has enabled dozens of authoritarian governments to monitor and persecute media workers and human rights defenders. A credible EU human rights policy requires member states to take joint action against such a company, rather than prioritising national security interests", said Lisa Dittmer, Advocacy Officer for Internet Freedom at Reporters Without Borders.

With this year's reform of its export controls, the EU sought to set new standards for value-based trade in digital surveillance technology. The accusations of misuse of Pegasus by the Hungarian government, reported national efforts such as France's to reach agreements with Israel to protect its own population from surveillance by NSO, and Germany's adherence to using Pegasus show little of this.

Technical experts from Canada's Citizen Lab and Amnesty International are still working to analyse the devices of potential victims. For example, Citizen Lab most recently confirmed that six Palestinian human rights defenders were hacked using Pegasus.

RSF, together with numerous affected journalists from seven countries, filed a complaint in Paris in July. EU Commissioner Didier Reynders condemned the alleged state abuse of digital surveillance technology during a discussion in the EU Parliament in September, but a clear step like the US government's decision to "blacklist" NSO Group has so far failed to materialise.

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Updated on 03.12.2021