When a group of international investigative journalists and researchers broke the news that spyware called Pegasus, produced by the Israeli NSO Group, had helped repressive governments across the world spy on journalists, activists and lawyers on an unprecedented scale, the question emerged: Where was Russia?
Russia’s government bodies — the secret services — are known to actively spy on journalists, activists, and lawyers. The NSO Group said it only sold spyware to vetted government bodies, not to private actors. And the relationship between Israel and Russia has been sufficiently close for years. So why is the FSB, or any other Russian agency, not on the list of NSO clients?
In October 2012, British NGO Privacy International, Canadian Citizen Lab and our website, Agentura.Ru, launched a joint project called “Russia's Surveillance State” to look into surveillance practices in Russia, including trade in surveillance technology. Part of our aim was to find out what kind of foreign surveillance hardware and software was being imported into Russia.
We had assembled a dream team for the task. Privacy International had the best people to track down the contracts and agreements between the world’s top surveillance equipment manufacturers and repressive governments, while Citizen Lab is a leader in detecting malicious code implanted on activists’ devices.