The Pegasus Project
For several months a team of 10 Guardian journalists worked with reporters around the world who had been given exclusive access to a list of more than 50,000 numbers identified as persons of interest by NSO’s government clients. This was a complex journalistic project, which had to take place largely without the reporters, editors or in-house lawyers using their own mobile phones. Much of the work involved identifying who owned the phone numbers on the list, contacting those individuals where it was safe and appropriate to do so, and facilitating specialist forensic analysis of devices to discover if they had been hacked. The result was a massive exposé, published over five days in July 2021. NSO Group had long insisted its technology was only used to monitor terrorists and serious criminals. The Pegasus project demolished that claim. It revealed how repressive governments had used the hacking software to monitor human rights activists, journalists, lawyers, NGO campaigners and political opponents. This submission consists of a sample of stories published in the opening week of the series. We revealed how Hungary’s government was spying on journalists, Narendra Modi’s government monitored political opponents, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum spied on his daughter, Princess Latifa, and ex-wife, Princess Haya, while she was in the UK. At least 50 people linked to the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, were spied on when he was an opposition candidate. Emmanuel Macron and several members of his Cabinet, relatives of the murdered Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and close associates of the Dalai Lama were also among those spied on. The list was obtained by the French non-profit Forbidden Stories and shared with select media around the world. The Guardian was the sole UK partner. The Guardian’s Pegasus Project articles garnered an extraordinary 9.5 million page views. For weeks the stories dominated headlines in some of the largest democracies in the world, including France, the United States, Mexico, India and the UK. The impact has been far-reaching. The United States placed NSO Group on an export blacklist, citing the use of its tools to “conduct transnational repression” against dissidents, journalists and activists, and in February the EU’s data watchdog recommended that Pegasus should be banned within the bloc. Apple filed a civil lawsuit seeking an injunction to prevent NSO carrying out further attacks on its customers, and earlier this year the company was described as “valueless” in a report by a consultancy representing its shareholders. With its chief executive departed, its workforce facing cuts, and rumours of a possible sale, few now expect NSO Group to survive in its current form.