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Government spyware a threat against journalism

Governments should stop using spyware and should take steps to prevent states with bad press freedom records from getting such tools, the Committee to Protect Journalists says in a campaign noting that there are dozens of incidents in which journalists and those close to them have been targeted with spyware.

“A secretive spyware industry has enabled the powerful to spy on journalists and their loved ones and we urgently need transparency and accountability,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy executive director.

“That’s why we’re calling on governments to ban spyware attacks on the press, and sanction those who continue to authorize, conduct, or facilitate them – including companies and third parties supplying technology and expertise behind closed doors.”

Many countries suspected of spying are notorious for repressing the media, and CPJ says that some of the journalists targeted, or those connected with them, have also faced arrest and physical violence in reprisal for their work.

  • Spyware can expose communications with sources, track a journalist’s movements, or steal private information, putting targets at risk of physical attack and other forms of censorship.
  • CPJ’s interactive map lists 38 journalists, commentators, and their close associates targeted with spyware – often successfully – as well as the states suspected in each case and the companies that allegedly supplied them.
  • Researchers have attributed the attacks to actors in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Ethiopia, Mexico, and India.
  • The spyware targets were located in nine countries including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and France.
  • Four companies accused of supplying the spyware are based in Israel, Italy, and Germany.

CPJ has digital safety advice for journalists on how to keep their information safe, as well as specific guidance on NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware.

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