Snowden's award-winning director: Pegasus extremely violent, invasive
Famous director Laura Poitras' latest documentary criticizes Israeli-manufactured spyware firm NSO and its surveillance software Pegasus.
Film director Laura Poitras, known for her documentary about US whistleblower Edward Snowden and Oscar-winning Citizenfour, delved into the surveillance topic to focus on private Israeli spyware firm NSO's Pegasus program.
Poitras' most recent work, Terror Contagion, is among the documentaries awaited to be shortlisted for the Oscar awards.
NSO Group's Pegasus was exposed as having been used by oppressive regimes to spy on journalists, human rights activists, dissidents, and even heads of state.
According to an investigation led by The Washington Post and 16 media partners, Pegasus is military-grade spyware leased by the Israeli firm to governments who used it in attempted and successful hacks of 37 smartphones belonging to journalists, human rights activists, and business executives.
“It’s classified as a cyber weapon. This is how extremely violent and invasive this technology is,” Poitras told Deadline.
“NSO Group, this Israeli company, sells to other countries, often countries that have a very bad history or track record of human rights," she added.
The Israeli manufactured software was allegedly used by the Saudi regime to assassinate Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 with the approval of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
Information has shown that Omar Abdulaziz, Khashoggi's friend, had his phone hacked in order to spy on the journalist.
In Poitras' documentary, Shourideh Malavi, a researcher with Forensic Architecture firm points out that Khashoggi's "assassination was empowered with Israeli software."
The award-winning director explained that when dealing with such software, "You don’t have to click on anything malicious. All they have to do is call you and you’re infected."
"The infection allows them to obtain everything that’s on your phone, to activate your camera and your microphone. So, there’s no way to fend against it,” Poitras expressed.
She also noted that the software "can pretend to be you."
"It can send messages as if it’s coming from you… or an email ‘from you’ that actually is coming through whoever the attacker is.”
Criticizing NSO, the director said such companies have "no sense of accountability… Now we have these cyber weapon mercenaries, NSO Group and others, that are selling these incredibly invasive, dangerous tools to regimes all over the world.”
Apple sued spyware maker NSO for targeting the users of its devices, saying the Israeli firm, at the center of the Pegasus surveillance scandal, needs to be held to account.
iOS devices of almost 10 US State Department employees were subjected to an attack by spyware developed by the Israeli NSO Group. Sources familiar with the matter told Reuters the assailant was unknown.
The sources told the agency the hacks took place over the last several months, and their targets were either based in Uganda or focused on matters concerning Kampala.
For its part, the United States placed NSO Group on its list of restricted companies.
As a victim herself, Poitras believes that surveillance is "a form of violence" that could damage many people, especially if it's a journalist or a lawyer working with sources and clients.
“Anything you write, anything you do on your phone, anything you do over your computers, you just have to assume that it’s not private and it really impacts your life.”