Report: FBI Explored Using Spyware “Pegasus” for Criminal Investigations

November 14, 2022

On November 12, The New York Times reported that the FBI explored using the phone-hacking technology “Pegasus” in its criminal investigations, despite the FBI’s prior assertions that it had only purchased a Pegasus license for research and development. The Times reporting is based on internal FBI documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act litigation. Earlier this year, the Times revealed that the NSO Group had sold the FBI a version of Pegasus called “Phantom,” marketed exclusively to U.S. agencies, which could hack into phones with U.S. numbers as well as foreign ones. FBI Director Christopher Wray had previously testified before Congress that the FBI’s use of Pegasus was limited to research and development purposes, such as understanding how it could be used by “bad guys.” However, according to the Times, the FBI went as far as developing guidelines for federal prosecutors on how the FBI’s use of Pegasus would need to be disclosed as part of criminal proceedings.

Earlier this year, EPIC submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the FBI seeking information about its connections to NSO Group and use of Pegasus spyware. The spyware has reportedly been used to target thousands of people and has been used to spy on French President Emmanuel Macron, Dubai’s Princess Latifa, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and many other prominent activists, academics, journalists. EPIC’s Project on Surveillance Oversight has long advocated against surveillance of digital devices. 

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