The rise of Pegasus spyware
The secret services ‘inside your mind’
Location: IMPAKT Centre for Media Culture
On 8 June, IMPAKT presents a panel session and the screening of Terror Contagion, a film by Laura Poitras and Forensic Architecture. The event explores the disturbing rise of the controversial spyware Pegasus, which was developed by the Israeli cyber-intelligence company NSO. Pegasus can be secretly installed on mobile phones to track the user’s actions and steal personal data. The film Terror Contagion portrays the experiences of human right defenders and journalists who became the target of this spyware. As one of the victims describes in the film, it feels as if someone is ‘sitting inside your mind.’ Governments worldwide, including the Dutch one, have allegedly made use of Pegasus. The European Parliament has now set up a Committee of Inquiry that is currently investigating the use of Pegasus and similar surveillance spyware for monitoring individual citizens. After the screening we will discuss the topics addressed in the film in an expert panel discussion guided by the questions: How has this new form of technological aggression become so widespread? How does it impact our future digital agency? And how can we resist it?
Speakers: Lola Conte (advanced researcher at Forensic Architecture), Jan-Jaap Oerlemans (endowed professor in Intelligence and Law at Utrecht University & senior researcher at the (Dutch) Review Committee on the Intelligence and Security Services) and Laurent Richard (co-founder and director of Forbidden Stories – a journalistic consortium working with reporters from The Washington Post, The Guardian, Le Monde and others).
The Rise of Pegasus Spyware is curated by Rosa Wevers (Utrecht University) and Niv Fux (independent curator)
Imagine this: With just one mouse click, a complete stranger accesses all the personal data on your phone – all your messages, contacts, photos and location info. And you are completely unaware that anything has happened. For increasing numbers of journalists, activists and human rights defenders, this frightening scenario has become a reality. Spyware programmes such as Pegasus (developed by the Israeli cyber-intelligence company NSO) have introduced a whole new range of tools for tracking and surveilling the most intimate corners of our lives. Once you become a target of this form of surveillance, the spyware spreads amongst your network like a virus. In the Laura Poitras film Terror Contagion, one of the victims describes how it feels to be secretly and aggressively surveilled in this way: ‘It’s like somebody sitting in your mind.’ Infecting a phone with this type of spyware is often illegal and considered unjust, but reports suggest it is used by over 45 law-enforcement agencies and governments – including the United States, Mexico, the Netherlands and other countries across Europe.
This event looks to untangle the complex web of digital surveillance with a film and a panel discussion featuring experts from the fields of art, politics and investigative journalism. We kick off with a screening of the short film Terror Contagion, made by Oscar-winning director Laura Poitras and Forensic Architecture. The post-screening expert panel will then help develop a deeper understanding of this new and aggressive form of digital surveillance. With our speakers we will explore the questions: Why is Pegasus so widely used by governments? What does it feel like to become the target of this spyware? How do these technological developments impact our future digital agency? And what are strategies for exposing and resisting this form of digital violence?
Rosa Wevers― Curator
Rosa Wevers is a PhD candidate at Utrecht University. For her research project 'Facing Surveillance: Artistic Strategies in Times of Control' she analyzes how contemporary art exhibitions confront visitors with critical perspectives on surveillance and engage them in strategies of resistance. Before starting her PhD, Rosa worked as a coordinator of the Museum of Equality and Difference (MOED) and the Gender and Diversity Hub of Utrecht University. Rosa is the co-host and co-producer of Kunstmatig, a podcast on art and technology.
Niv Fux― Curator
Laurent Richard― Speaker
Laurent Richard is a journalist, executive producer of investigative documentaries, founder and executive director of Forbidden Stories. For more than 20 years, Laurent Richard has been conducting international investigations and major reports for television. Since its creation in 2017, Laurent and his team have been able to raise more than four million US dollars to ensure the development of Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based nonprofit that now employs 12 full-time staff and coordinates investigations with 150 reporters and more than 60 news organizations including The Washington Post, The Guardian, Le Monde and many others. Forbidden Stories has won numerous awards including the prestigious “European Press Prize”, two Georges Polk Awards and the “Reporters Without Borders Impact Award” for the “Pegasus Project” published in 2021.
Lola Conte― Speaker
Lola Conte is an advanced researcher at Forensic Architecture. Lola Contes research touches on the intersection between technology and state power. She studies at the Architectural Association where she graduated with honours and received her RIBA PART II in 2019. Lola's thesis investigated the implementation of technology in court, particularly the use of virtual links for defendants appearing remotely from spaces of incarceration. Since mid-2021, Lola has been researching how the NSO Group's Pegasus malware has targeted civil society networks across the world. This has resulted in the report: "Digital Violence: How the NSO Group enables state terror".
Jan-Jaap Oerlemans― Speaker
Jan-Jaap Oerlemans is an associate professor of Intelligence and Law at Utrecht University. Oerlemans researches digitalization and the work of intelligence agencies with special regard for the connection between cybersecurity and national security. In 2020 Oerlemans became associate professor at UU, where he now focuses on legal issues surrounding government data collection and cybersecurity. In addition, Oerlemans is part of the expert group of the Cybercrime Centre at the Court of Justice in The Hague and works as an editor for the magazine Computerrecht. He is also affiliated with the Montaigne Centre for the Rule of Law and Administration of Justice and the Willem Pompe Institute for Criminal Law and Criminology at Utrecht University. Lastly, Oerlamans works as senior researcher at the Dutch Supervisory Committee of the Intelligence and Security Services (CTIVD).