The General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) uses the controversial Pegasus eavesdropping software from the Israeli company NSO Group. The spy program would have been used, among other things, to hack the phone of Ridouan Taghi, the main suspect in the Marengo trial. It is unknown whether the security service also uses Pegasus for other purposes.
Four sources confirm to de Volkskrant that the AIVD uses Pegasus.
Uncertainty about the use of Pegasus in the Netherlands
Pegasus is spy software developed by the NSO Group. With the eavesdropping program, intelligence and security services can extract all imaginable information from smartphones and other infected devices. In addition to digital communications (texts, emails, and WhatsApp messages), the software also collects photos, videos, phone numbers, location data, and stored documents. It is also possible to listen in on telephone conversations and to make screenshots and videos unnoticed.
For a long time it was unclear whether Dutch intelligence and security services used Pegasus to wiretap suspects. Last year, then Minister of the Interior Kajsa Ollongren and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sigrid Kaag wrote to the House of Representatives in a letter that they did not know whether the services actually use this espionage software.
The police also refuse to disclose information about the hacking software they use. De Volkskrant has been trying for years to get more clarity about this, but without success. Marc van Breda, head of legal affairs at publishing house DPG Media, recently announced that he would go to an administrative court to get the right documents on the table.
‘Pegasus deployed against Ridouan Taghi’
The fact that the AIVD uses Pegasus to listen in on suspects seems to be clear. Four sources confirm to de Volkskrant that the security service relies on Pegasus for this. Ridouan Taghi, the head of the Marengo process, among others, would have been spied on with this software. Inez Weski, Taghi’s lawyer, calls the software an “extra-legal technical tool”.
In 2017, the cabinet agreed that the police could only purchase hacking software from suppliers that were only supplied to ‘screened regimes’. However, this restriction did not apply to intelligence and security services. When Taghi was in hiding abroad, the AIVD used Pegasus to track him down.
The AIVD refuses to answer questions about the use of Pegasus. NSO Group also does not want to respond or the reporting. The Israeli security company invokes its duty of confidentiality. The company also claims not to know how and when customers use the spy software.
Dutch and European research into the use of Pegasus
Member of Parliament Pieter Omtzigt is not pleased with the state of affairs. “I want to know within which framework Pegasus was deployed, against which categories of persons, and how supervision is organised. I also want to know what the prime minister thinks about the use of Pegasus by the Netherlands,” he told de Volkskrant.
Omtzigt acts as rapporteur for the Council of Europe. In this position, he must answer the question of whether the Netherlands uses Pegasus. At the end of May, the MP put written questions about the subject to the cabinet. He inquired for which crimes and against which suspects the espionage software is used, and how much has been invested in the purchase of espionage software.
The European Parliament is also currently conducting an investigation into Pegasus. She tries to find out to what extent the Israeli spy software is and is used to monitor European politicians, journalists and activists. The inquiry committee, led by Sophie in ‘t Veld, will present its findings next year.
Pegasus increasingly used against European politicians
The spy software is not only controversial because of its immense privacy breach. Research has shown that Pegasus is used to wiretap journalists, human rights activists, lawyers and other prominent individuals. French President Emmanuel Macron, President of the European Council Charles Michel and European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders and four other members of the European Commission are said to have been spied on with NSO Group software.
Pegasus would also have been used to eavesdrop on Catalan and British politicians. The head of Spain’s secret service CNI was fired last month for using Pegasus to spy on President Pedro Sánchez and Defense Secretary Margarita Robles.
NSO Group denies everything, Amnesty demands independent investigation
NSO Group says it designed Pegasus for governments to ensure national security by detecting criminal and terrorist activities early. Our technologies are used daily to take down paedophile and drug and sex traffickers networks, locate missing and kidnapped children, locate survivors trapped under collapsed buildings and protect the airspace from disruptive penetration by dangerous drones. the company’s official statement reads.
NSO Group, therefore, denies all allegations. It even threatens to take legal action to defend itself against these “baseless allegations”.
Parties such as WhatsApp, Apple and Amnesty International have in turn sued NSO Group. The human rights organization wants a “grounded and independent investigation” into the conduct of the Israeli company. The US has blacklisted the security company. This means that American companies are not allowed to do business with NSO Group.
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