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Pressure grows for EU to take action on Pegasus spyware

Experts, investigators and victims of Pegasus recently shared their insights on the controversial spyware, while members of the EU Parliament are calling for an inquiry.

The EU’s data protection watchdog recently called for a ban on the development and use of Pegasus spyware following revelations of its potential impact on privacy rights.

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) said the use of military-grade spyware such as Pegasus could cause “unprecedented risks and damages” to the rights and freedoms of individuals, as well as to democracy and the rule of law.

“Pegasus constitutes a paradigm shift in terms of access to private communications and devices, which is able to affect the very essence of our fundamental rights, in particular the right to privacy,” the EDPS said in a report published on 15 February. “This fact makes its use incompatible with our democratic values.”

Following a European Parliament discussion on the matter that same day, the European People’s Party (EPP) said a majority of MEPs are in favour of launching an inquiry committee to look into the illegal use of the Pegasus spyware.

Pegasus was developed by Israel’s NSO Group, which creates surveillance technology that can be used to track targeted iOS and Android users. NSO claims its products are used by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to prevent and investigate serious crime and terror incidents.

But the group made headlines last year when an investigation claimed the Pegasus spyware was abused and used to target journalists, activists and government officials.

The Pegasus spyware can infect the phones of targets through a variety of mechanisms, such as a message that provides a link to a website and, if clicked, delivers malware to the device.

‘Canary in the coal mine’

A public hearing arranged by the EPP took place on 10 February where experts, investigators and victims of Pegasus shared their insights on the controversial spyware.

At the hearing, Roman Giertych, the lawyer of Polish politician Donald Tusk, described his experience of being targeted through the spyware. Citizen Lab, the Canadian research group that has helped uncover Pegasus abuses, said last year that Giertych’s phone was first hacked in September 2019.

Giertych believes he was not the main target and was being hacked as a means to get to Tusk. At the time, people were waiting to see if Tusk was going to run as a presidential candidate in Poland, and Giertych claimed that Poland’s ruling PiS party wanted to find out more information.

Last month, the leader of PiS confirmed that the Polish government has access to Pegasus spyware, Politico reported, but denied that it was used against political opponents in the 2019 election campaign.

Giertych referenced John Scott-Railton from Citizen Lab by saying the spyware is the “canary in the coal mine, pointing to a far greater danger”.

Who is using Pegasus in the EU?

Last year, more than 80 journalists from 17 media organisations in 10 countries were involved in an investigation called the The Pegasus Project. The group was led by Paris-based media non-profit Forbidden Stories with technical support provided by Amnesty International.

Speaking at the EPP hearing, Forbidden Stories director Laurent Richard and editor-in-chief Sandrine Rigaud said they came up against an “unprecedented espionage operation in a number of countries” using Pegasus software from the NSO Group.

According to Forbidden Stories, NSO Group has said many of its clients are within the EU but no member states confirmed using Pegasus during its investigation. Since then, leaders in Poland and Hungary have admitted to purchasing the spyware.

Richard said the team saw “thousands” of victims who had their data stolen by security services. “All of these people are considered dangerous to certain powers, be they human rights activists, be they because they’re seen as threats to a regime,” he said.

He added that Forbidden Stories will continue its investigation to see what sort of control checks are in place by security groups using Pegasus spyware.

NSO previously said the Pegasus Project report is full of false accusations, wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories.

“Their sources have supplied them with information which has no factual basis, as evident by the lack of supporting documentation for many of their claims,” said the issued response last year.

Rigaud also said that the most recent iPhone updates have not prevented victims from being hacked. Last September, Apple issued an urgent update to address a security flaw that could be exploited to infect iOS devices with the Pegasus spyware.

In November, Apple then filed a lawsuit against NSO Group in a bid to “hold it accountable for the surveillance and targeting of Apple users”. The tech giant was seeking to permanently ban the group from using any Apple software, services or devices.

How is NSO Group involved?

Citizen Lab senior researcher Bill Marczak said at the hearing that the big question regarding Pegasus is “who exactly gets to see the information extracted from the phones”.

Marczak said any future investigations or regulatory effort should look into the “ongoing role” of the NSO Group, rather than focusing on just the technology.

“A tool like Pegasus is mostly useless without constant updates, maintenance and help from NSO. And of course there is a whole ecosystem of other entities that support NSO including companies that sell software and hardware to NSO, including exploits to break into phones, and let’s not forget the investors that sustain the company.

“Lets also keep in mind that NSO Group is not alone in this industry,” Marczak said.

Last December, it was reported that NSO Group was considering options to sell the company or shut down its controversial Pegasus unit amid international backlash. A month before, the group was blacklisted by the US Chamber of Commerce for enabling “transnational repression” with its spyware tools.

What will the EU do next?

At the European Parliament plenary session earlier this month, MEPs discussed the findings that suggest certain EU governments have used Pegasus spyware on journalists, politicians and others. Dutch MEP Jeroen Lenaers said the issue is not about countries being allowed to use technology to fight organised crime and terrorism, but about the rule of law.

“This is about the abuse of technology for political gain and about the complete absence of checks and balances,” Lenaers said.

The Greens/European Free Alliance group president and Belgian MEP Philippe Lamberts, added that the Pegasus scandal reveals “nothing less than the illegal and abusive use of cyber surveillance weapons against our fellow citizens”.

“The EU has stood by on the issue of surveillance for too long,” Lamberts said in a statement. “Silence and inaction are no longer possible in the light of the allegations that EU member states such as Hungary are utilising surveillance tools against citizens.

“This is why we are calling for an inquiry committee to expose the extent of these illegal hacking practices,” he added.

The EPP said it is planning its own “fact-finding mission” to Poland to map out the full scope and consequences of the use of Pegasus, planned for next month.

“The terms and the mandate of the parliamentary committee looking into the Pegasus scandal are still being negotiated by the main political groups in the European Parliament,” the EPP said in a statement earlier this month.

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Congratulations, Privacy Just Took A Great Leap Out the Window!

Your Data Is Being Used Without Your Permission And Knowledge

The Voice Of EU | In the heart of technological innovation, the collision between intellectual property rights and the development of cutting-edge AI technologies has sparked a significant legal battle. The New York Times has taken legal action against OpenAI and Microsoft, filing a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court. This legal maneuver aims to address concerns surrounding the unauthorized use of the Times’ content for the training of AI models, alleging copyright infringements that could potentially result in billions of dollars in damages.

READ: HOW YOUR DATA IS BEING USED TO TRAIN A.I.

This legal tussle underlines the escalating tension between technological advancements and the protection of intellectual property. The crux of the lawsuit revolves around OpenAI and Microsoft allegedly utilizing the Times’ proprietary content to advance their own AI technology, directly competing with the publication’s services. The lawsuit suggests that this unauthorized utilization threatens the Times’ ability to offer its distinctive service and impacts its AI innovation, creating a competitive landscape that challenges the publication’s proprietary content.

Amidst the growing digital landscape, media organizations like the Times are confronting a myriad of challenges. The migration of readers to online platforms has significantly impacted traditional media, and the advent of artificial intelligence technology has added another layer of complexity. The legal dispute brings to the forefront the contentious practice of AI companies scraping copyrighted information from online sources, including articles from media organizations, to train their generative AI chatbots. This strategy has attracted substantial investments, rapidly transforming the AI landscape.

Exhibit presented by the New York Times’ legal team of ChatGPT replicating a article after being prompted

The lawsuit highlights instances where OpenAI’s technology, specifically GPT-4, replicated significant portions of Times articles, including in-depth investigative reports. These outputs, alleged by the Times to contain verbatim excerpts from their content, raise concerns about the ethical and legal boundaries of using copyrighted material for AI model training without proper authorization or compensation.

The legal action taken by the Times follows attempts to engage in discussions with Microsoft and OpenAI, aiming to address concerns about the use of its intellectual property. Despite these efforts, negotiations failed to reach a resolution that would ensure fair compensation for the use of the Times’ content while promoting responsible AI development that benefits society.

In the midst of this legal battle, the broader questions surrounding the responsible and ethical utilization of copyrighted material in advancing technological innovations come to the forefront.

The dispute between the Times, OpenAI, and Microsoft serves as a significant case study in navigating the intricate intersection of technological progress and safeguarding intellectual property rights in the digital age.


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‘The Bill Gates Problem’ – The Case Against World’s Richest Man

The Case Against World’s Richest Man

When Clinton assumed the presidency of the United States, there was eager anticipation from the Chinese, not for Clinton himself, but for Bill Gates. This was during the late 1990s, a period when the internet was still in its nascent stages, and the digital boom of the early 2000s had not yet reached its peak. The enigmatic persona that captivated the attention of the burgeoning Asian powerhouse is now portrayed in “The Bill Gates Problem” as a “domineering, brusque figure” whose demeanor is likened to “a cauldron of passions that freely erupts.” According to a former employee cited in the book, Gates was perceived as “a complete and utter jerk to people 70% of the time,” while the remaining 30% saw him as a “harmless, enjoyable, exceptionally intelligent nerd.”

The 1990s were also the decade of the conflict between Microsoft and the now defunct Netscape browser, which challenged what was already being openly described as the former’s monopolistic practices. Gates was investigated and accused in Congress for such practices; he ultimately won the battle, but the case harmed his reputation, and in 2000 he resigned as CEO of his company. From there he undertook an expansion of the foundation that he had established with his wife and to which he has dedicated his main efforts in the last two decades. In 2006, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation received the Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation.

With a personal fortune of $100 billion and tens of billions more in his private foundation, Gates has been one of the richest men in the world for decades, and the foundation has been the most generous organization of its kind, specializing above all in health aid, education and child nutrition, with a large presence in Africa and India among other regions of what was formerly known as the Third World. Tim Schwab, a contributor to the weekly left-wing newspaper The Nation, undertook a detailed investigation to denounce something that in truth was already known: that American foundations are largely a way for billionaires to avoid taxes.

To prove this, he thoroughly looked into the accounts and procedures of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the failures and occasional successes of its philanthropic policies, and came to the conclusion that behind this facade of help to the needy hides an operation of power. He is ruthless in his criticism, although accurate in his analysis of the growing inequality in the world. Absorbed by the revolutionary rhetoric, he laments that the Gates Foundation has remained “deadly silent” regarding movements such as Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter, which demand social change in the face of the “excess wealth and ‘white savior’ mentality that drives Bill Gates’ philanthropic work.” He does attribute some good intentions, but his criticism is merciless, sometimes even coarse, while the absence of solutions for the problems he denounces — other than the calls for do-goodism — is frustrating.

His abilities as an investigative journalist are thus overshadowed by a somewhat naive militancy against the creative capitalism that Gates promotes and an evident intention to discredit not only his work but, above all, him. The demands he makes for transparency and the accusations of obscurity are dulled by the author himself in the pages he dedicates to Gates’ relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, the famous corruptor of minors at the service of the international jet set. Gates has explained his meetings and interviews with him on countless occasions, and in no case has any type of relationship, other than their commercial relations or some confusing efforts to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, been proved. Still, Schwab raises, with no evidence whatsoever, the possibility that their relationship “could have had something to do with Epstein’s principal activities in life: sexual gratification and the exercise of power.” The book is full of this kind of opinions and speculations, to the detriment of a more serious analysis of Gates’ mistakes in the management of his foundation, the problems of shielding the intellectual property of vaccines in the hands of the pharmaceutical industries and, ultimately, the objective power that big technology companies have in global society.

He signed a collaboration agreement with the RAE to improve Microsoft’s grammar checker and was interested in the substantial unity of the Spanish language in all the countries where almost 600 million people speak it. That man was very far from the sexist, arrogant, miserable predator that Schwab portrays. Nor did we deduce — and this can be applied to the personal adventure of Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Zuckerberg, Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos — that his life’s goal was world domination, as suggested by this book. If they have achieved it, or may achieve it, it is due to the dynamics of digital civilization and the objective difficulties in governing it. The deregulation of financial capitalism, which has increased inequality among humankind, is due to the incompetence of obsolete political institutions and to leaders who care more about their own fates than those of their people. The criticism against “lame and wasteful government bureaucracies” might be part of the propaganda promoted by the world’s wealthy, but lately we have also heard it from small-scale farmers across Europe.

In conclusion, we found the book to be more entertaining than interesting. It provides a lot of information — we’re not sure if it’s entirely verified — and plenty of cheap ideology. Above all, one can see the personal crusade of the author, determined to prove that Bill Gates is a problem for democracy and that millionaire philanthropists are a bunch of swindlers. The world needs their money; maybe managed by party bureaucracies, that much is not clear. Bill Gates’ money, that is, but not Bill Gates himself.


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Conflicted History: ‘Oppenheimer’ And Its Impact On Los Alamos And New Mexico Downwinders

‘Oppenheimer’ And Its Impact On Los Alamos And New Mexico Downwinders

The Voice Of EU | In the highly anticipated blockbuster movie, “Oppenheimer,” the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man behind the first atomic bomb, is portrayed as a riveting tale of triumph and tragedy.

As the film takes center stage, it also brings to light the often-overlooked impacts on a community living downwind from the top-secret Manhattan Project testing site in southern New Mexico.

A Forgotten Legacy

While the film industry and critics praise “Oppenheimer,” a sense of frustration prevails among the residents of New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin, who continue to grapple with the consequences of the Manhattan Project. Tina Cordova, a cancer survivor and founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, expresses their feelings, stating, “They invaded our lives and our lands and then they left,” referring to the scientists and military personnel who conducted secret experiments over 200 miles away from their community.

The Consortium, alongside organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists, has been striving to raise awareness about the impact of the Manhattan Project on New Mexico’s population. Advocates emphasize the necessity of acknowledging the human cost of the Trinity Test, the first atomic blast, and other nuclear weapons activities that have affected countless lives in the state.

The Ongoing Struggle for Recognition

As film enthusiasts celebrate the drama and brilliance of “Oppenheimer,” New Mexico downwinders feel overlooked by both the U.S. government and movie producers. The federal government’s compensation program for radiation exposure still does not include these affected individuals. The government’s selection of the remote and flat Trinity Test Site, without warning residents in the surrounding areas, further added to the controversy.

Living off the land, the rural population in the Tularosa Basin had no idea that the fine ash settling on their homes and fields was a result of the world’s first atomic explosion.

The government initially attempted to cover up the incident, attributing the bright light and rumble to an explosion at a munitions dump. It was only after the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Japan weeks later that New Mexico residents realized the magnitude of what they had witnessed.

Tracing the Fallout

According to the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, large amounts of radiation were released into the atmosphere during the Trinity Test, with fallout descending over a vast area. Some of the fallout reached as far as the Atlantic Ocean, but the greatest concentration settled approximately 30 miles from the test site.

Now I Am Become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.

J. Robert Oppenheimer

The consequences of this catastrophic event have affected generations of New Mexicans, who still await recognition and justice for the harm caused by nuclear weapons.

A Tale of Contrasts: Los Alamos and the Legacy of Oppenheimer

As the film’s spotlight shines on the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, a contrasting narrative unfolds in Los Alamos, more than 200 miles north of the Tularosa Basin. Los Alamos stands as a symbol of Oppenheimer’s legacy, housing one of the nation’s premier national laboratories and boasting the highest percentage of people with doctorate degrees in the U.S.

Oppenheimer’s influence is evident throughout Los Alamos, with a street bearing his name and an IPA named in his honor at a local brewery. The city embraces its scientific legacy, showcasing his handwritten notes and ID card in a museum exhibit. Los Alamos National Laboratory employees played a significant role in the film, contributing as extras and engaging in enlightening discussions during breaks.

The “Oppenheimer” Movie

Director Christopher Nolan’s perspective on the Trinity Test and its profound impact is evident in his approach to “Oppenheimer.” He has described the event as an extraordinary moment in human history and expressed his desire to immerse the audience in the pivotal moment when the button was pushed. Nolan’s dedication to bringing historical accuracy and emotional depth to the screen is evident as he draws inspiration from Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.

For Nolan, Oppenheimer’s story is a potent blend of dreams and nightmares, capturing the complexity and consequences of the Manhattan Project. As the film reaches global audiences, it also offers a unique opportunity to raise awareness about the downwinders in New Mexico, whose lives were forever altered by the legacy of nuclear weapons testing.

The Oppenheimer Festival and Beyond

Los Alamos is determined to use the Oppenheimer Festival as an opportunity to educate visitors about the true stories behind the film’s events. The county’s “Project Oppenheimer” initiative, launched in early 2023, encompasses forums, documentaries, art installations, and exhibits that delve into the scientific contributions of the laboratory and the social implications of the Manhattan Project.

A special area during the festival will facilitate discussions about the movie, fostering a deeper understanding of the community’s history. The county aims to continue revisiting and discussing the legacy of the Manhattan Project, ensuring that the impact of this pivotal moment in history is never forgotten.

As “Oppenheimer” takes audiences on an emotional journey, it serves as a reminder that every historical event carries with it complex and multifaceted implications. The movie may celebrate the scientific achievements of the past, but it also illuminates the urgent need to recognize and address the human cost that persists to this day.


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