Germany's federal police agency secretly purchased and used controversial spyware 'Pegasus'

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 3,158   +870
Staff member
Why it matters: According to reports out of Germany, the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) purchased spyware from Israel-based developer NSO. The software in question is the controversial spyware known as Pegasus. Pegasus has been used by other governments to spy on journalists and other non-criminal individuals.

German news outlet Deutsche Welle (DW) notes that the federal government held a closed-door session with the parliamentary Interior Committee of the Bundestag. In the meeting, it confirmed that the BKA bought Pegasus software from NSO Group in 2019. The agency made the purchase in "the utmost secrecy" against the advice of lawyers and privacy advocates who argued the software could do much more than German privacy laws allow.

Sources said that the version of Pegasus the BKA bought had "certain functions blocked to prevent abuse." However, what parts of the software were specifically disabled and how is unclear.

Pegasus is capable of circumventing security protocols in both iOS and Android operating systems. Citizen Lab confirmed as late as this year that Pegasus can easily escape security measures in iOS 14. It uses various techniques to capture everything from phone calls and text messages to emails, stored media, and contact information.

Pegasus can also enable the microphone and video functions to spy in real-time. Operators can use it to record conversations, access settings, read location data, and even circumvent the encryption on text messages.

BKA Vice President Martina Link told the German parliamentary committee that while the BKA purchased the software, it has only used it to surveil organized crime and terrorism operations. Presumably, the BKA restricted this surveillance to what is allowed by German law. However, the agency was less than transparent about its operation of the software, revealing no specifics about the data it had obtained and the methods used.

NSO claims it has only sold the spyware to government entities, but privacy advocates say that is no assurance that the software will not be abused. Indeed, DW reported last July that various news outlets had uncovered a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers of potential Pegasus targets. Among them were human rights activists, journalists, multiple heads of state, government ministers, and senior diplomats.

Members of parliament are demanding "full clarification" from the BKA about who "specifically bears responsibility for the purchase and use of the spy software," referring to the revelation as a "nightmare for the rule of law." Likewise, German journalists are up in arms, demanding to know if they have been spied on and if their contacts have been compromised.

"[We want to know] whether journalists were spied on without their knowledge, whether their sources are still safe," said German Journalists' Association Chairman Frank Überall, calling the BKA's actions "incomprehensible."

Permalink to story.

 

Avro Arrow

Posts: 1,800   +2,154
TechSpot Elite
"Government claims it only spies on organized crime and terrorists"
- Yeah, ok. I'm sure that we haven't heard THAT one before! So if this program is so good, why are we not hearing about organised crime and terrorists being arrested?

Maybe they should just be trusted, I mean, what could go wrong, eh?:laughing:
 

Hexic

Posts: 1,047   +1,556
TechSpot Elite
Translation:

Another government intelligence agency using intelligence agency tools and tactics to monitor and track entities of interest.

In other news, it’s going to be sunny today, high of 110F, and just in - the world ISN’T FLAT!

It’s incredible the lack of understanding that some things just need to be kept in the dark, and there will ALWAYS be a level of innate trust to those government agencies to do their job. Without Martha down the street knowing the innate workings of an intelligence agency.
 

kiwigraeme

Posts: 542   +417
Translation:

Another government intelligence agency using intelligence agency tools and tactics to monitor and track entities of interest.

In other news, it’s going to be sunny today, high of 110F, and just in - the world ISN’T FLAT!

It’s incredible the lack of understanding that some things just need to be kept in the dark, and there will ALWAYS be a level of innate trust to those government agencies to do their job. Without Martha down the street knowing the innate workings of an intelligence agency.


The people that complain about this will be the same that complain when the Brandenburg Gates are blown up -About how stupid govt is in protecting them .
The other thing is most people who rave about privacy - are hypocrites and can be shown to inconsistent stances ( it's solely about them ). That is not to say they do not have a point - but the answers are not black and white - and are very nuanced - Even ethics boards can ponder things for a long time . I also accept that some privacy advocates are the full twenty - like some conscientious objectors.
Human nature - just have to accept it - but I hate with a passion - Politicians who rave about death penalties and throw away the key - when they always get caught - I have yet to see one not cry like a baby and worm away - as opposed to Timothy McVeigh and most serial killers who accept their punishments
 

brucek

Posts: 893   +1,293
There's a big difference between legal classified activity, and illegal classified activity.

In this story, it appears that German legislators, who believe they by law are in control of what is allowed and what is not, are finding out that their laws are being ignored by an agency they oversee. Just how big a check are those of you defending this prepared to grant the law breakers? Should all elected officials up through the president / prime minister be irrelevant with ultimate decisions left to unnamed intelligence officers?

Of course these issues are complicated, which is why we have legal systems that have spent decades working out security vs. quality of life issues; balance of power issues; and fairness and justice issues. Does all of that go out the window anytime anyone who claims to be working on national security has a new bright idea?

My POV is I believe modern nations got where they got by respecting the rule of law, and that should continue to apply to all branches and levels of the government.