Insider Q&A: Internet guardian Ron Deibert of Citizen Lab


BOSTON (AP) — The internet watchdog Citizen Lab has been remarkably effective in calling to account governments and private sector firms that use information technology to put people in peril.

Its digital sleuths at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs are best known for exposing abusive targeted espionage, particularly through the use of . Its Pegasus tool has been used to hack and surveil dozens of journalists, human rights activists and dissidents globally. In November, the U.S. government and and notified Pegasus victims.

Citizen Lab’s work elsewhere is less known. It exposes digital espionage campaigns and insecure software, most recently for athletes, journalists and other foreigners attending the Winter Olympics.

The Associated Press recently spoke with Citizen Lab’s director, . The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: You founded Citizen Lab in 2001. How did that happen?

A: I was doing work on how intelligence agencies use satellite reconnaissance technology for arms control verification. It exposed me to a world that I didn’t even know existed. I saw the mixture of tools being used to gather electronic evidence and wondered why something like that could not be done in the public interest, on behalf of journalists, NGOs, and human rights activists. And what better place to do such evidence-based research – alongside people with technical skills I didn’t have — than at a university? This was all in the back of my mind when the Ford Foundation reached out to see if I was interested in a project on information tech and international security. So I pitched the lab as “counterintelligence for global civil society.” It was hubris at the time. I had no case to make such a claim. But here we are many years later, fulfilling that role.

Q: What do you consider Citizen Lab’s greatest contributions? And is it growing?

A: I think the greatest thing we’ve done is develop a reputation for research that is highly credible, methodical and unbiased. We go where the evidence leads us and are beholden to no one. I have been able to surround myself with very talented, highly ethical people most of whom could be…