Journalists, activists worried
Ugandan journalists, activists and opposition politicians are now on alert for possible surveillance following revelations that their counterparts have been targeted by governments worldwide using Pegasus.
Nicholas Opiyo, a human rights lawyer, says he has readied himself for the new confrontation that is the digital warfare.
“The intense pressure on journalists, civil society actors by autocratic governments to stifle expression is a vice that has gone on for so long. I am that shocked that anyone would be shocked,” he says.
Opiyo was abducted on Christmas Day last year commando style by security operatives while at a restaurant in Kampala. He believes he was being trailed by security operatives before they pounced on him. He is facing money laundering charges.
He says “we can never give in to the tactics of the state”.
“I have a 2G phone for sensitive communications which is off grid; no internet, nothing as a way of avoiding digital surveillance,” he says.
The spyware revelations were a result of a collaborative investigation by more than 80 journalists from 17 news organisations. Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based nonprofit journalism organisation, and Amnesty International, coordinated the investigation where 50,000 phone numbers that were selected as targets were leaked to the journalists.
The journalists investigating the wide scale spying had various findings.
“The fact that a number appeared on the list was in no way indicative of whether that number was selected for surveillance using Pegasus or was infiltrated with NSO’s software.” wrote The Guardian, one of the 17 media houses involved in the investigation. 180 journalists including editors were selected as possible targets using Pegasus.
The new spying scandal has also exposed more digital vulnerabilities as the iPhone which is known for its strong security features had a number of users’ digital security compromised. Once Pegasus has compromised a phone, it gets access to one’s emails, photos, messages, videos, location and can activate cameras and microphones without a user’s knowledge.
The new spyware reveal has left US tech company Apple on the defensive. Pegasus was used to trail Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was brutally murdered by a Saudi hit squad in Turkey in 2018. His murder drew widespread condemnation from the world. It was also revealed that his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz’s phone was also targeted.
Some activists are not letting their guard down as cyber surveillance becomes ever more intense and sophisticated even as others seem resigned to a seemingly unwinnable war.