Why it matters: According to reports from outside Germany, the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) has purchased spyware from an NSO developer in Israel. The program in question is a controversial spyware known as Pegasus. Other governments have used Pegasus to spy on journalists and other non-criminals.
German newspaper Deutsche Welle (DW) reported that the Federal Government had held a closed-door meeting with the Bundestag's Inter-Parliamentary Committee. During the meeting, it was confirmed that BKA had purchased Pegasus software from NSO Group in 2019. The agency made the purchase with minimal secrecy, contrary to the advice of lawyers and privacy advocates, who believed the software could do much more than German privacy laws. .
Sources say that the version of Pegasus purchased by BKA "has been blocked some functions to prevent abuse." However, what parts of the program are specifically disabled and how is still unclear.
Pegasus is able to bypass security protocols on both iOS and Android. Citizen Lab confirmed later this year that Pegasus can easily evade iOS 14's security measures. It uses a variety of technologies to record everything from phone calls and text messages to emails, saved media, and contact information.
Awe ist es raus: #BKA nutzt Spyware #Pegasus #NSO. Most of the fragile parts of 5/19 are empty, even if empty, while all spyware can be used, and it's a very serious tool. zeitonlineholger_stark 1/2 pic.twitter.com/fuE0n2BXYi- MartinaRenner September 7, 2021
Pegasus can also enable microphone and video functions for real-time spying. Operators can use it to record conversations, access settings, read location data, and even bypass encryption on text messages. I only used it to monitor organized crime and terrorism operations. It is assumed that the BKA has limited this supervision to those permitted by German law. However, the agency has not shown much transparency about the performance of its programs nor has it disclosed any information about the data obtained and the methods used. NSO claims that it only sold the spyware to government agencies, but privacy advocates say it cannot guarantee that the software will not be misused. In fact, last July DW reported that various news agencies had revealed a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers for Pegasus targets. They included human rights activists, journalists, heads of state, government ministers, and senior diplomats. Using spyware, referring to the revelation as a "rule of law nightmare." "We want to know if journalists have been spied on without their knowledge," said Frank Abral, president of the German Journalists Association. Their sources are still safe."
Germany's Federal Police Agency Secretly Bought and Used Controversial Pegasus Spyware