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UN experts urge freeze on surveillance tech sales amid Israeli spyware scandal

Special rapporteurs urge Israel to disclose ‘what measures it took to review NSO export transactions in light of its own human rights obligations’

In this file photo taken on August 28, 2016, a woman uses her iPhone in front of the building housing the Israeli NSO group, in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
In this file photo taken on August 28, 2016, a woman uses her iPhone in front of the building housing the Israeli NSO group, in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

GENEVA — UN experts called Thursday for an international moratorium on the sale of surveillance technology until regulations are implemented to protect human rights following an Israeli spyware scandal.

An international media investigation reported last month that several governments used the Pegasus malware, created by Israeli firm NSO Group, to spy on activists, journalists and politicians.

Pegasus can switch on a phone’s camera or microphone and harvest its data.

“It is highly dangerous and irresponsible to allow the surveillance technology and trade sector to operate as a human rights-free zone,” the United Nations human rights experts said in a statement.

The statement is signed by three special rapporteurs on rights and a working group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other businesses.

“We urge the international community to develop a robust regulatory framework to prevent, mitigate and redress the negative human rights impact of surveillance technology and pending that, to adopt a moratorium on its sale and transfer,” they said.

A general view of the 37th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on February 26, 2018 in Geneva, Switzerland. (AFP Photo/Jean-Guy Python)

The experts urged Israel to “disclose fully what measures it took to review NSO export transactions in light of its own human rights obligations.”

Israel’s defense establishment has set up a committee to review NSO’s business, including the process through which export licenses are granted.

Pegasus’s list of alleged targets includes at least 600 politicians, 180 journalists, 85 human rights activists and 65 business leaders.

NSO insists its software is intended for use only in fighting terrorism and other crimes, and says it exports to 45 countries.

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