The German government admitted on Tuesday, September 7, that its federal police service have used the controversial Israeli spyware known as Pegasus, drawing immediate criticism from rights groups. Germany’s BKA federal police bought the software from Israel’s NSO Group in late 2019, a closed-door parliamentary committee learned from government officials.
Germany’s federal investigative police force held talks with Israeli cyber-espionage firm NSO Group and even purchased its infamous Pegasus spyware, the German newspaper Die Zeit revealed Monday, September 6. According to the report by Holger Stark, the Federal Criminal Police Office — known in Germany as the Bundeskriminalamt (BKA) — first held talks with NSO in 2017. At the time, the report said, a delegation from NSO even traveled to Wiesbaden, where the BKA is headquartered, to showcase the capabilities of the Pegasus spyware.
Pegasus, which is able to switch on a phone’s camera or microphone and harvest its data, came under global scrutiny after a list of about 50,000 potential surveillance targets — including journalists, activists and politicians — was leaked in July. French President Emmanuel Macron changed his phone after his number appeared on a list of potential targets.
Die Linke lawmaker Martina Renner called the Pegasus acquisition “a nightmare for the rule of law” and demanded a full explanation from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government. Amnesty International called for “urgent rules on public procurement that require state agencies to also consider companies’ human rights records when making purchases.” “We want to know if journalists were spied on without their knowledge and whether their sources are still safe,” added Frank Ueberall, chairman of the German Union of Journalists.