Pegasus spyware, produced by the Israel-based NSO group, has been used by multiple administration to silence the dissident voices. Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are among the main clients.
Pegasus scandal hit the headlines a few weeks ago, but continues to be a matter of significance in mainstream media. This is partly because media characters have been among the main targets of the Israeli NSO spyware.
Media activists comprise only one part of the large group whose cellphones have been the potential target of attack. Amon other, human right activists and famous politicians are the group that received the most outstanding coverages.
The NSO product seems to have made the ground for various governments to spy and suppress the critics and dissidents. A spyware for peaceful intelligence, as the NSO Group claims, provided the tool for more crackdown in close communities.
In the first section of this study, we analyzed the way countries like Azerbaijan and India dealt with, or utilized the Pegasus spyware. The second part focuses on Saudi Arabia with a long history in crackdown against dissidents. UAE and Mexico will be subject to analysis on the way.
Saudi Arabia and UAE
Loujain al-Hathloul, Saudi Arabian most famous activists was among the potential targets of Pegasus spyware. Al-Hathloul was kidnapped in UAE three years ago. Emirati official forcefully returned her to Saudi Arabia, where she received a three-year sentence.
The reports indicate that the kidnapping and deporting process occurred with the assistance of Pegasus spyware in UAE. The United Arab Emirates is a prominent client of NSO and a strong political and economic partner of Saudi Arabia.
While released from prison half a year ago, the Saudi women’s right activist is still barred from speaking to media or moving freely inside the country. She he is also under travel restriction leaving her confined in a bigger jail. There is no access to her cellphone to examine potential indications of infection by Pegasus spyware.
Hathloul has already announced the third party access to her emails. As another Saudi activist says, “My assumption is that they were hacking her to know the networks of people she is organizing with.” Hala al-Dosari lives in the United States and contacted al-Hathloul before her disappearance in 2018.
Dosari said that Saudi officials had obtained private information concerning per diem payments of around €50 (£43) per day made to Hathloul in connection with her campaigning, presumably through her cellphone.
“The targeting of dissidents [should] sit in the same mental box as the targeting of heads of state, the targeting of ambassadors, as the targeting of big corporations and defence contractors,” said John Scott-Railton of Citizen Lab. The center released a report concerning the Pegasus spyware’s role in spying Emirati activists Ahmed Mansoor.
In Mexico, the records show that a large number of activists, attorneys, and rights advocates were target of potential attacks. Eduardo Ferrer Mac-Gregor Poisot, the former head of the Inter-American Human Rights Committee, was among the main targets. Pegasus spyware also infiltrated a religious character and migrant rights activist in the name of Alejandro Solalinde in Mexico.
Due to backing for a partisan competitor, Solalinde believes, the previous Mexican administration was looking for a way to tarnish his reputation. The Christian priest also say he received information by a former national intelligence agency (Cisen) agent that he had been under direct surveillance.
The administration in Mexico has utilized Pegasus spyware to observe and contain loads of other political and human rights activists. The local government’s fear of an eruption of societal infuriation has been the reason behind the move.