Corporate Enabled State Crime 2021 – Pegasus Spyware

Pegasus Spyware – an example of corporate enabled state crime breaching the human right of privacy in 2021

Pegasus Spyware is software which is able to bypass your phone’s security and gain access to data on your device, such as:

  • emails
  • Whatsapp messages
  • photos
  • Your GPS location

It can also switch on your microphone and camera and record what you are doing without you being aware.

Pegasus is the most sophisticated piece of Spyware ever developed and it takes surveillance to its most intense and intrusive level ever.

How Pegasus hacks your phone

Pegasus Spyware is the main product of the Israeli surveillance company NSO Group who sells its surveillance software to governments around the world.

The company says it ‘vet’s governments and only sells software to clients involved in combatting terrorism and other serious crimes – by infecting suspected terrorists’ phones and subjecting them to intense surveillance.

However, according to a recent Guardian investigation, a recent leak of NSO files has revealed that some of government’s clients have been using their Spyware to target journalists and other dissidents who are perceived to be critical of their regimes. Some of the countries who use the software with bad records of human rights abuses include:

  • India
  • Morocco
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Hungary
Countries using Pegasus Spyware in breach of citizens’ human rights

The leaked records include 50 000 phone numbers of people whose phones may have been hacked – The Guardian recently investigated hundreds of these numbers and found that in dozens of cases the software was indeed on their phones and in some cases the people who have been under surveillance, or people close to them have been murdered, possibly by agents of the state in an attempt to silence them.

(NB the company denies these allegations and says its software is only used legitimately by ‘vetted’ governments.)

The most serious consequence of this level of surveillance used in this way is that it poses a threat to democracy. Dictatorial states are obsessive about surveillance in order to crack down on opposition and this software increases hugely their capacity to do just this.

It also reveals as a ‘fantasy narrative’ the idea that surveillance companies and states work together to only surveil ‘criminals’ in order to keep ordinary citizens safe. In these examples it is the citizens who are being kept under surveillance and having their right to privacy undermined as a result, without their consent.

A Corporate-State Crime

This seems to be a good example of a corporate enabled state crime, with the governments identified above being the criminals and the victims being anyone who has had their phone hacked.

Privacy is a fundamental human right defined under the United Nation’s Human Rights Convention, and in the above examples there are 5000 potential cases of individuals having their right to privacy denied by governments, in breach of their human rights.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This material is relevant to both the crime and deviance module and the media module, especially the topics of state crime and surveillance.

Find out More

This video provides a good overview of the Pegasus Surveillance Project.

This link to The Guardian provides an excellent way into exploring all aspects of this issue.

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