The Spy in Your Phone
Al Jazeera (2021)
This film concerns Al Jazeera reporter Tamer Almisshal, who learned in mid-2020 that advanced phone spyware was collecting all his passwords, texts, emails and social media posts. He sought help from Citizen’s Lab, an interdisciplinary laboratory at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. They discovered his phone had been hacked by Israeli-made Pegasus software. The latter is marketed by the Israeli company NSO Group to United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia to monitor dissident journalists and human rights activists.
Al Jazeera believes that Saudi Arabia used Pegasus to track the movements of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (prior to murdering him in 2018). They believe UAE hacked Almisshal’s phone because of his investigation into the three-year embargo of Qatar by Saudi Arabia and UAE (which ended January 5 – see Arab States Agree to End Three Year Boycott of Qatar.
Citizens Lab ultimately discovered that 36 Al Jazeera journalists had phones infected by Pegasus software.
Citizen Lab first uncovered the existence of Pegasus spyware when it was used to target UAE dissident Ahmed Mansour in 2016. It’s also used to target journalists in African and Latin American countries. Unlike other spyware, Pegasus has “zero click” capability. This means it can download itself (by dialing a phone number) without the user answering, clicking on a link or downloading a file.
The film also reports on a UAE enterprise known as Dark Matter that uses Pegasus to spy on US journalists and activist. The company employs a number of former NSA and CIA officials in their surveillance activities. This, according to NSA whistleblower William Binnie, is illegal without clearance from the contracting agency that employed them.
People who believe their phone is being hacked can contact Citizens Lab at https://citizenlab.ca/ for assistance.