UN urges better regulation, oversight of surveillance tech

India's Congress party members protesting in New Delhi yesterday against Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government over its alleged surveillance operation using the Pegasus spyware.
India's Congress party members protesting in New Delhi yesterday against Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government over its alleged surveillance operation using the Pegasus spyware.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

GENEVA • The United Nations has voiced alarm at reports that several governments used Israeli phone malware to spy on activists, journalists and others, stressing the urgent need for better regulation of surveillance technology.

The reports about the Pegasus spyware "confirm the urgent need to better regulate the sale, transfer and use of surveillance technology and ensure strict oversight and authorisation", UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Monday.

An investigation by The Washington Post, The Guardian, Le Monde and other media outlets revealed potentially far more extensive spying than previously thought using the malware from Israel's NSO Group that is able to switch on a phone's camera or microphone and harvest its data.

The Paris prosecutor's office opened a probe yesterday into allegations by investigative news website Mediapart and two of its journalists that they had been spied on by Morocco using Pegasus.

Indian opposition parties disrupted Parliament yesterday, demanding an investigation into reports that the Modi government had used the spyware to snoop on journalists, activists and politicians, including the main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi.

Ms Bachelet said the revelations were extremely alarming, and seemed to confirm some of the worst fears about the potential misuse of surveillance technology. She recalled that the UN had repeatedly flagged the dangers of authorities using surveillance tools to hack phones and computers of legitimate journalists, activists and political opponents in the name of public safety. She also warned that broad use of such technologies could lead to self-censorship.

Ms Bachelet said surveillance measures can be justified only "in narrowly defined circumstances, with a legitimate goal" such as investigations into serious crimes and grave security threats.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2021, with the headline 'UN urges better regulation, oversight of surveillance tech'. Subscribe