No to spyware: media, civil society demand ban on tech used for human rights abuses

Marking World Press Freedom Day, over 70 journalists, independent experts, and civil society organizations are demanding a complete ban on commercial spyware technology that has been used to facilitate human rights abuses, and its vendors.

Read the full statement launching at Secret surveillance: countering spyware’s threats to freedom of the press and expression, co-hosted by Access Now.

Invasive and abusive commercial spyware that has been used to facilitate human rights abuses globally has no place in our world. Years worth of evidence by civil society has demonstrated that the companies selling these technologies should not be rewarded with governmental contracts that would continue enabling their abuses.RAND HAMMOUD, SURVEILLANCE CAMPAIGNER AT ACCESS NOW

From Mexico to India, journalists around the world uncovering corruption and investigating human rights abuses are being targeted with spyware, such as NSO Group’s Pegasus. Countries under democratic governments or authoritarian regimes are using spyware as a tool of transnational repression to track down and intimidate journalists wherever they are. This ongoing, far reaching assault is crushing freedom of the press, and hindering journalists from revealing corruption and abuse, and holding authorities to account.

This sinister technology that has been misused and abused by governments around the world is not safe in any hands, and its use can never be justified. Discussions do not suffice. We expect action: protect freedom of the press, stamp out the spyware threat.SAID NATALIA KRAPIVA, TECH LEGAL-COUNSEL AT ACCESS NOW

Unlawful use of spyware and targeted surveillance violates the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and access to information, peaceful assembly and association, freedom of movement, and privacy. Through the open statement, journalists, independent experts, and media and civil society organizations are calling on states to:

  • Implement an immediate moratorium on the export, sale, transfer, servicing, and use of targeted digital surveillance technologies until rigorous human rights safeguards are put in place;
  • Where there is evidence that commercial spyware technology facilitates or enables human rights abuses, implement a ban on the technology and its vendors;
  • Hold companies who develop and distribute these technologies, and their investors, accountable;
  • Reaffirm protections for all journalists and media workers and safeguard press freedom; and
  • Create national gender-responsive prevention and protection mechanisms to ensure journalists’ safety online.

For years, Access Now and civil society have been campaigning for a global moratorium on the export, sale, transfer, servicing, and use of targeted digital surveillance technologies until rigorous human rights safeguards are put in place as the baseline requirement to keep the industry in check. However, growing evidence shows that certain spyware companies have enabled so many abuses that their technology should be banned.

A complete ban of commercial spyware found to have facilitated human rights abuses is the right step to safeguard human rights.

Access Now’s 24/7 Digital Security Helpline works with individuals and organizations around the world to keep them safe online. Journalists seeking to have devices checked for spyware can reach out.

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