Pegasus can infect a target’s device without the victim knowing and allow a government or organization to access personal data, including turning on cameras and microphones. Activists against surveillance have called on governments to ban or at least heavily regulate spyware companies. And the United Nations’ human rights office called on governments last year to regulate the sale and use of spyware technologies.
Yet there are still no international accords restricting spyware and even governments that ban Pegasus still face a whack-a-mole problem of other less visible and less regulated spyware companies popping up. As a result, officials are stuck employing low-tech solutions to protect themselves. Macron reportedly replaced his phone and changed his phone number last year after his number was found on a list of 50,000 allegedly targeted by NSO clients using Pegasus.
After researchers reported in April that Pegasus had infected the phones of dozens of Spanish officials including Catalan president Pere Aragonès, he started leaving his phone outside the room when he goes into important policy meetings and has sensitive conversations.
“When you are having to acknowledge or that someone is listening to you, you are very reluctant to talk privately with your partner or your relatives,” Aragonès said in an interview a few weeks after the hacks were discovered.
Citizen Lab, a research lab based at the University of Toronto, found “strong circumstantial evidence” tying the Spanish government to the hacks of Catalan officials (Catalonia has long fought for more autonomy) — a charge Spain has denied. It was two weeks later that Spain’s Prime Minister became a victim himself.
In the U.S. officials have confirmed that the FBI acquired Pegasus technology, though only for testing. And some lawmakers argue that privacy has to be balanced against the need to use all tools available to protect national security.
“It is a very tricky area, because we want to protect people’s privacy, but on the other hand, we want to be sure we have the tools to find terrorists and those kind of things,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in an…