(UnitedVoice.com) – In 2019, three Israeli computer engineers traveled to the US to work with the FBI to test the latest spyware their company, NSO Group, had developed. The tool, a version of Pegasus, would allow federal authorities to hack into any iPhone or Android smartphone in the US. The federal law enforcement agency was so intrigued it allegedly discussed using the tool for two years.
According to an extensive report by The New York Times Magazine, when NSO developed the Pegasus spyware in 2011, the Israeli government required the company to program it so it was incapable of hacking American phones. They didn’t want foreign enemies spying on their ally. NSO had offered the FBI a workaround: a new program called Phantom. This version of Pegasus allowed the agency to hack any number in the US.
Motherboard, the US arm of NSO, pitched the spyware to US police departments. According to a brochure, the tool would allow law enforcement and spy agencies to get information by “extracting and monitoring crucial data from mobile devices” without any cooperation from Verizon, Google, Apple, or AT&T. The company promised to turn cell phones into “intelligence gold mine(s).”
NSO offered the FBI a workaround: a new system called Phantom. Israel granted a special license to NSO that permitted Phantom to attack U.S. numbers. The license allowed for only one type of client: U.S. government agencies. https://t.co/hHwLDTpUGT
— The New York Times (@nytimes) January 28, 2022
The FBI and Department of Justice debated whether to use the Phantom program on Americans for two years. During that time, they renewed a contract with NSO for the Pegasus system, spending roughly $5 million. That system is now stored in a facility in New Jersey and the FBI says it was never deployed.
An FBI spokeswoman told New York Times Magazine that the government tests technology so it can fight crime and “protect civil liberties.” That’s debatable given the bureau’s history of spying on innocent Americans.
How do you feel about the FBI testing the Phantom and Pegasus spyware?
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