The US president has signed an executive order banning a tool used by autocracies and some democracies to spy on dissidents, human rights activists and journalists, the New York Times reported on Monday, citing a White House statement.
President of the USA Joe Biden signed an executive order on Monday banning government entities from using commercial spyware such as Pegasus, among others. According to the White House, the possible use of such programs would pose a national security risk.
As a senior official of the administration said during a briefing presenting the initiative, the move is intended to be “a demonstration of leadership USA and a commitment to combat the misuse of commercial spyware and other surveillance technologies.”
The decision was to be the aftermath of an analysis started in 2021 at the White House regarding the dangers of the spread of commercial spy programs, such as Pegasus by the Israeli company NSO. The phones of several American diplomats were hacked with this software.
The White House: Democratic governments have kept their citizens under surveillance
This led to sanctions against NSO and other producers of similar software. However, U.S. law has so far not prohibited the use of these programs by government agencies, even though the White House considers their use to be a national security risk.
As FBI chief Christopher Wray testified in Congress last year, his service had licensed the Pegasus, but noted that it was for “research” purposes and had not been used in Bureau investigations. The FBI also had a similar program, also produced by the NSO, called Phantom.
As noted by the White House, the announcement is related to the second Summit for Democracy organized by the US, which begins on Tuesday. The misuse of commercial surveillance tools is not limited to authoritarian regimes, and democratic governments have also used spyware to spy on their citizens without proper legal authorization, security and oversight, the statement said.
Pegasus. Reports on surveillance in Poland
At the beginning of March, “Gazeta Wyborcza” reported that Jacek Karnowski, the president of Sopot, who co-led the election campaign of the opposition to the Senate in the previous elections, was under surveillance with the help of Pegasus.
The cases of Pegasus surveillance in Poland were reported – independently – by the Citizen Lab and Amnesty International. One of them is the senator of the Civic Coalition, Krzysztof Brejza, who was under surveillance 33 times before the parliamentary elections in 2019, when he was the head of the KO electoral staff.
On the list of those under surveillance, apart from Senator Brejza, there is the patron Roman Giertych, prosecutor Ewa Wrzosek and the head of Agrounia Michał Kołodziejczak. In April 2022, Citizen Lab reported that Andrzej Malinowski, the former president of the Employers of Poland organization, joined this group.
Main photo source: JIM LO SCALZO/PAP/EPA