International rights groups have called on Saudi Arabia to end its surveillance on the offices of the Palestine Center for Development and Media Freedoms after it was discovered that the phones of some of its workers had been infected with Pegasus spyware. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the spyware was developed by Israel’s NSO Group, and has been used in recent years by governments and companies in countries with oppressive governments.
The Wafa news agency, based in Saudi Arabia, on Monday published a statement saying that it had requested assistance from the United States Central Intelligence Agency after several employees’ mobile phones were detected to be infected with the spyware.
WPJ reported earlier this year that Pegasus was being used on electronic devices in the country. In April, a spokesman for Wafa said that the agency was aware of reports that the spyware was being used by Saudi Arabia, including reports of Saudi intelligence using smartphones belonging to Saudi cabinet ministers. Human Rights Watch said earlier this month that Wafa accounts had been accessed hundreds of times.
The governments of the United States and Israel have been working with NSO Group, even after a U.S. special envoy resigned in May amid questions over the spyware’s alleged use by Egyptian authorities.
According to the EFF, NSO has built a reputation for creating secretive surveillance systems for governments around the world, and, in the case of Saudi Arabia, “Saudi Arabia appears to be taking the spyware to new heights with its public secret use of the spyware.”
In a statement, the Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote that “the spyware, as with other versions of the software, comes with a unique ability to scan mobile devices of people who are the targets of various secret actions,” adding that “it appears Saudi Arabia has placed its officials, lawyers, journalists, activists, and others under direct surveillance, often because of the perceived or actual ties to the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, and other violent extremist groups.”
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