The European Union Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) on Tuesday called for a ban on the use and development of Pegasus-like commercial spyware in the region.
The data protection authority called out the technology’s “unprecedented level of intrusiveness” that could endanger users’ right to privacy.
“Pegasus constitutes a paradigm shift in terms of access to private communications and devices, which is able to affect the very essence of our fundamental rights, in particular the right to privacy,” the EDPS said in its preliminary remarks. “This fact makes its use incompatible with our democratic values.”
Developed by Isralei tech company NSO Group, Pegasus is a piece of highly advanced military-grade spyware that’s capable of breaking into smartphones running Android and iOS. This turns the devices into a remote monitoring tool that’s capable of extracting sensitive information, recording conversations, and tracking users’ movements.
Although NSO Group has repeatedly claimed that the software is only sold to governments for the purpose of fighting crime and terrorism, increasing evidence has uncovered widespread abuse of Pegasus to hack into the phones of journalists, political figures, dissidents, and activists in several countries, including Israel.
According to a series of disclosures by the business publication Calcalist over the past few weeks, dozens of citizens in the country were targeted by Israel Police with the NSO Group’s spyware to gather intelligence without a search warrant authorizing the surveillance.
Stating that Pegasus shouldn’t be compared to law enforcement interception tools, the EDPS said, “National security cannot be used as an excuse to an extensive use of such technologies nor as an argument against the involvement of the European Union.”
Additionally, the watchdog proposed better supervision over the use of surveillance measures, a stricter implementation of data protection regulations, and strengthening legislation outlawing the use of sophisticated hacking tools like Pegasus to safeguard against unlawful use.
NSO Legal Troubles
Earlier this month, NSO Group allegedly offered “bags of cash” in return for access to cell networks in the United States to track people through their mobile devices, according to a whistleblower’s complaint to the US Department of Justice (DoJ).
In December, a group of US lawmakers urged the Treasury Department and State Department to sanction NSO along with three other foreign surveillance companies they say helped authoritarian governments commit human rights abuses.
In November, tech giant Apple sued NSO, saying that the Israeli company violated US laws by breaking into the software installed on iPhones.
NSO has also faced either legal action or criticism from Microsoft, Facebook company Meta Platforms, Google parent company Alphabet Inc, and Cisco Systems Inc.