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Pegasus spyware and the consequences for privacy

A woman checks the website of Israel-made Pegasus spyware at an office in the Cypriot capital Nicosia on July 21, 2021. - Reports that Israel-made Pegasus spyware has been used to monitor activists, journalists and politicians around the world highlight the diplomatic risks of nurturing and exporting "oppressive technology", experts warned. Private Israeli firm NSO Group has denied media reports its Pegasus software is linked to the mass surveillance of journalists and rights defenders, and insisted that all sales of its technology are approved by Israel's defence ministry. (Photo by Mario GOLDMAN / AFP) (Photo by MARIO GOLDMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
A woman checks the website of Israel-made Pegasus spyware at an office in the Cypriot capital Nicosia on July 21, 2021 [MARIO GOLDMAN/AFP via Getty Images]

It's not that long ago that people were preoccupied with the hacking of some social media sites, including those believed to be immune from such things, such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, for example. Now we have Pegasus spyware.

Pegasus is a programme produced by an Israeli company, NSO, through which mobile telephones can be hacked into and monitored. An investigation has identified around 50,000 phones that have been infected with the programme, which was bought by Arab regimes to spy on their opponents and other parties. The story has been well covered in the media.

However, this is the tip of the iceberg. There is no doubt that security and military agencies in developed countries are already developing advanced generations of Pegasus. When available, they will probably be very cheap.

Combined with satellite and drone technology which allows extraordinarily detailed spying to take place from the skies above us all, it is clear that privacy is going to become a thing of the past. If secrets need to be revealed for whatever reason, they will be revealed, regardless of the consequences. Moreover, as prices become more affordable, it will not be long before neighbours will be able to spy on each other.

READ: UAE denounced by victims of hacking scandal as Israel seeks to save-face

It is a diabolical progression. Everyone will be completely exposed. And there is a political aspect to this, as well as a social one. The latter is complex and requires an in-depth discussion elsewhere.

In terms of the political aspect, though, we already know that it is difficult for those working in the political and military fields to have absolute secrecy, upon which they rely. They now know that everything will be shared with their own and other security agencies. As such, they are going to have to change the way that they work.

This is not only going to affect opposition groups, but also official bodies and regimes within which there are rivalries and power struggles. We can expect to see a deluge of leaks from officials and opposition groups alike, each designed to damage the other in one way or another.

There is going to be a growth in security personnel engaged in spying on enemies within and without; hordes of people will be spied upon at great expense. Countermeasures will have to be taken, and these will also be costly. Regimes may find themselves facing these or other measures in varying degrees, placing them in a very difficult situation. Instability is bound to follow.

READ: Israeli spyware is a threat to all freedoms everywhere

There is no solution to this other than pluralism, freedom, and transparency so that sophisticated spying is simply not necessary. Security and intelligence agencies need to be recalibrated so that they represent the conscience of the people and the interests of society, rather than the interests of the ruling elites.

When oppression becomes too much to bear, it can go either get worse or the people can rise up and take control. We have already seen what can happen with the latter. With the proliferation of dangerous spyware such as Pegasus, more of the same may be on the way.

Translated from Arabi21, 23 July 2021 and edited for MEMO.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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