Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) has secretly bought the controversial Israeli spy software Pegasus to monitor suspects, a local media outlet reported on Tuesday.
The BKA, a subordinate agency of the German Interior Ministry, finalized a contract with Israeli company NSO Group despite serious legal concerns, the weekly newspaper Die Zeit reported, citing security officials.
The German government is scheduled to brief the parliament’s interior committee on the issue later in the day.
The NSO Group sells Pegasus to police and intelligence agencies around the world. The program can spy on iPhones and Android smartphones in real-time, record conversations, track location data, secretly activate phone cameras, and bypass the encryption of chat messages.
In July, an investigation by international media organizations, including Germany’s Die Zeit and Suddeutsche Zeitung newspapers and NDR and WDR broadcasting networks, revealed the extensive misuse of the spyware.
It revealed that a list of potential targets with more than 50,000 phone numbers included numerous human rights activists, journalists, and lawyers around the globe.
The list, which runs from 2016 to this year, also contains the numbers of a dozen heads of state and government, numerous ministers, and high-ranking diplomats.
Technical analysis of numerous mobile phones showed that they had been attacked by the spyware and, in some cases, were spied on for years.
German journalist associations have demanded clarification and countermeasures in the wake of the latest revelations.
Speaking about the “unprecedented surveillance scandal,” Frank Ueberall, the chairman of the Berlin-based German Federation of Journalists, said authorities must explain if the software has been used against German journalists.
His remarks were echoed by Monique Hofmann, the chairwoman of the German Union of Journalists, who called for restrictions on the export of surveillance technology.
“Authoritarian states use Pegasus to silence critical and opposition voices. Spy software must not be supplied to countries in which human rights are repeatedly violated,” she said.