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The Pegasus project: hacked in London – podcast | News

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Back in July the Guardian, along with a number of international partners, revealed how a powerful spyware tool called Pegasus created by an Israeli company and sold to governments around the world was being used against journalists, human rights workers and politicians.

We had a leak – a database of 50,000 phone numbers – giving clues as to who some of those victims could be. We spent months trying to match the leaked phone numbers to real people and one of those matches came in the last weeks of the investigation: Alaa Al-Siddiq, a dissident from the United Arab Emirates, who had asylum in London.

In June, just before the investigation was published, she died in a car accident. There was nothing suspicious about her death but now new evidence has emerged about an intense campaign to surveil Al-Siddiq, who served as executive director of ALQST, a non-profit organisation advocating for human rights in the UAE and wider region.

The Guardian’s Stephanie Kirchgaessner tells Michael Safi that the case exemplifies a worrying trend for activists such as Al-Siddiq, who escaped the UAE to live in the relative safety of the UK, but was never out of the reach of Pegasus spyware. One of Al-Siddiq’s friends describes the months leading up to her death as she felt increasingly concerned about the surveillance she knew she was under.

In 2020, shortly after she learned she had been hacked, Al-Siddiq gave an interview, using a pseudonym, to film-maker Laura Poitras and researchers at Forensic Architecture, a London-based research group that has studied NSO Group and how digital infections of civil society often target networks of collaborators.

Shourideh Molavi, a researcher at Forensic Architecture describes the powerful surveillance tools as a form of “digital violence” that should increasingly be viewed alongside other examples of state violence.

Last week the investigative website Mediapart reported that traces of Pegasus spyware were found on the mobile phones of at least five current French cabinet ministers, citing multiple anonymous sources and a confidential intelligence dossier.

Alaa Al-Siddiq

Photograph: Hossam Sarhan

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