U.S. blocklists Sandvine for enabling digital repression in Egypt

EU calls for spyware moratorium, but no ban to protect human rights

Today, the European Parliament’s Pegasus committee is calling for an immediate moratorium on the sale, acquisition, transfer, and use of spyware. Access Now reviewed an early copy of the committee’s draft report via Politico — the preliminary conclusions of its investigations — that outlines detailed recommendations that would significantly increase the protections against the use of spyware and ensure further accountability. Notably, however, it just does not demand the prohibition of technologies that are incompatible with human rights. To right this wrong, Access Now is calling on the special committee to recognise a need for a ban to strengthen its stance on these dangerous tools, and urges other EU institutions to take the necessary steps to implement the committee’s recommendations both in law and practice.

“A call for prohibition would have been a key indicator that the European Parliament has the fortitude to stand up against the spyware industry and abusive governments. Hungary and other examples highlight the painful gaps the EU still needs to fill to protect democracy, rule of law, and fundamental rights”, said Fanny Hidvegi, Europe Policy and Advocacy Director at Access Now. “The special committee’s report rightly shows that national security is a political excuse not a legal constraint, and EU institutions have the means and obligations to fulfill their role as the guardian of the EU treaties.”

The European Parliament established the special committee to address EU governments’ continuous and scandalous use of spyware to target and silence journalists, human rights defenders, and political opposition and dissidents. Launched in April 2021, the Committee’s mandate is to shed light on the use of the invasive tech in Europe. 

“The PEGA committee must take the opportunity to call for an outright ban on invasive spyware that gives indiscriminate and disproportionate access to individuals’ devices”, said Rand Hammoud, Surveillance Campaigner at Access Now. “Ample evidence proves that spyware like NSO Group’s Pegasus violates people’s fundamental rights, and has already caused significant harm globally. There is no rights-respecting use of this technology, nor are there any technical or legal safeguards that could ever fully eliminate the threat they pose. These are tools of transnational repression that should never be allowed, and the EU must use this opportunity to set the bar right with a timely ban.”

The committee’s report calls out the outrageous government actions in certain EU countries and, critically, it recognises that EU institutions have the means and obligation to act, and makes concrete recommendations to significantly increase the protections against the use and abuse of spyware in Europe. Access Now urges EU institutions to take on this challenge, and put an end to the use of this dangerous technology.

Update: 9 November — Access Now and civil society are campaigning for a global moratorium on the export, sale, transfer, servicing, and use of targeted digital surveillance technologies until rigorous human rights safeguards are put in place as the baseline requirement to keep the industry in check. The EU’s recent recommendation is a recognition of the urgency to act on this perilous technology. However, the EU PEGA hearings show that the use of Pegasus-like spyware in the region is incompatible with EU democratic and human rights norms, and thus a moratorium must include a subset to ban invasive technology.