The mobile phones of six Palestinian rights workers in the Israeli-occupied West Bank were hacked using Israeli technology firm NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, Amnesty International and internet security watchdog Citizen Lab say.
The new findings followed NSO’s blacklisting last week by the US Commerce Department amid allegations its spyware targeted journalists, rights activists and government officials in several countries.
NSO, which voiced dismay at the US move, exports its products under licences from Israel’s Defence Ministry and says it only sells to law enforcement and intelligence agencies and that it takes steps to curb abuse.
London-based Amnesty and Toronto’s Citizen Lab said they had independently confirmed that Pegasus had been used to hack the Palestinian activists’ phones, after Front Line Defenders, an international rights group, began collecting data in October about the suspected hacking.
Three of the six people work for Palestinian rights groups that Israel designated as terrorist organisations last month, saying they had funnelled donor aid to militants. The groups named by Israel have denied the allegations.
Asked about the new findings, NSO said: “As we stated in the past, NSO Group does not operate the products itself … and we are not privy to the details of individuals monitored.”
A Palestinian human rights group on Monday urged the United Nations to investigate the claims that the phones of activists in the West Bank were hacked using NSO Group’s spyware.
“We call on the United Nations to launch an investigation to disclose the party that stood behind using this program on the phones of human rights activists, a move that put their lives at risk,” Tahseen Elayyan, of Al-Haq Organisation for Human Rights, said in Ramallah.