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Measuring the SDGs:  Who controls the process, who owns the results?

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Statisticians from around the world, meeting at the UN Statistical Commission in March, will again take stock of progress in the world of data over the previous 12 months, largely driven by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The official report on filling the gaps in the global indicator framework—a clear priority of the 2018 Commission—show that while some progress has been made much has stalled. Gaps and tensions continue over the selection and interpretation of indicators, the data to fill them, the selection of partners as well as control of the process and ownership of the results.

By Barbara Adams and Karen Judd

Download UN Monitor #02 (pdf version).

These struggles go back to the negotiations over the 2030 Agenda and its goals and targets, and have continued into the effort to define the global indicator framework.  A special edition of the Global Policy Journal details the complex power dynamics involved throughout this process. Contributors show that the selection of indicators does not depend purely on technical considerations but ultimately concerns political questions of competing priorities among a range of different players. One proposal, outlined below, argues that national statistical systems urgently must take charge of this process, and shows how they can do it.

Indicators and Tier Classification

Stepped-up methodological work on the global indicator framework since the 2018 Commission has enabled a total of 16 indicators to move up from Tier III to Tier II, so that data collection can begin; there are a total of 84 indicators now at Tier II, up from 77 in November 2018. Several indicators have also moved up from Tier II to Tier I, meaning there are a sufficient number of countries compiling this data to enable monitoring and reporting. There are a total of 101 Tier I indicators, up from 93 in November 2018. But, as of December 2018, a total of 41 indicators remained stalled in Tier III.

The Interagency and Expert Group –Sustainable Development Goals (IAEG-SDGs) report states: “Given the urgency of reclassifying the remaining Tier III indicators, the IAEG-SDGs will review additional tier reclassification requests at virtual meetings from December 2018 to February 2019” and at additional meetings throughout the year. An update on the reclassification of these indicators will be given verbally at the presentation of the framework to the 50th session of the UN Statistical Commission.

For the remaining Tier III indicators, proxies have been reviewed for those with a 2020 deadline, those that concern means of implementation, and those for Goals 12-14 for which more than half remain at Tier III.  The IAEG-SDGs has identified proxies for nine of these (see box): three concern climate change (Goal 13); three relate to marine ecosystems (Goal 14); one relates to poverty reduction (Goal 1); one relates to cities (Goal 11) and one relates to waste reduction (Goal 12).

SDGs Current Tier III Indicator Proposed Global Proxy (w/ custodian agency)
SDG 1 1.a.3 Sum of total grants and non-debt-creating inflows directly allocated to poverty reduction programmes as proportion of GDP Total official development assistance grants from all donors that focus on poverty reduction as share of recipient country’s gross national income (OECD)
SDG 11 11.a.1 Proportion of population living in cities that implement urban and regional development plans integrating population projections & resource needs, by size of city Number of countries that have a National Urban Policy or Regional Development Plans that (a) respond to population dynamics, (b) ensure balanced territorial development, and
(c) increase local fiscal space (UN-Habitat)
SDG 12 12.5.1 National recycling rate, tons of material recycled 1) National recycling rates per household (World Bank)

2) National waste generation per capita (World Bank)

SDG 13 13.2.1 Number of countries that established/ operationalized integrated policy/ strategy/ plan to increase ability to adapt to adverse impacts of climate change, & foster climate resilience & low greenhouse gas emissions development in manner that does not threaten food production… 1) Total Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, GHG per capita and GHG per GDP (UNFCCC)

2) Number of nationally determined contributions (NDCs) (UNFCCC)

13.a.1 Mobilized amount of USD/yr between 2020 and 2025 accountable towards the $100 billion commitment Amounts provided and mobilized in USD/yr in relation to the continued existing collective e mobilization goal of the $100 billion commitment through to 2025 (UNFCCC)
13.b.1 LDCs & SIDSs receiving specialized support, & amount of support, including finance, technology and capacity-building, for mechanisms for raising capacities for effective climate change-related planning and management, focusing on women, youth & local and marginalized communities Number of LDCs and SIDS that are successfully implementing adaptation projects under the UNFCCC funds (UNFCCC)
 

SDG14

14.1.1 Index of coastal eutrophication and floating plastic debris density Ocean Health Index (UNEP-WCMC)
14.2.1 Proportion of national exclusive economic zones managed using ecosystem- based approaches Marine Trophic Index (UNEP-WCMC)
14.7.1 Sustainable fisheries as a proportion of GDP in SIDS, LDCs and all countries MSC Certified Catch (UNEP-WCMC)

Tier III indicators without proxies include those for six of the seven goals that will be reviewed at the 2019 High Level Political Forum. For Goal 8, on inclusive growth and decent work, there are still two Tier III indicators: 8.4.1, on material footprint per capita and per GDP, and 8.9.2, on sustainable tourist jobs. For Goal 10, on reducing inequalities, one, 10.3.1, on the proportion of different population groups experiencing discrimination or harassment, which is also an indicator under Goal 16, remains at Tier III.

For Goal 16, on peaceful and just societies, there are still five Tier III indicators, including 16.4.1 on the value of inward and outward illicit financial flows, 16.1.2 on conflict related deaths, and three on representation in or discrimination by various institutions. And for Goal 17, means of implementation, there are still six Tier III indicators, although one at least, on policy coherence, has moved to Tier II.

Additional indicators – maybe

Regarding the possible 37 additional indicators drawn up in 2017 to fill in gaps in the global framework, the IAEG-SDGs agreed that the 2020 comprehensive review would consider additional indicators “only in exceptional cases when a crucial aspect of a target is not being monitored by the current indicator(s) or to address a critical or emerging new issue that is not monitored by the existing indicators, or when a whole Goal has very few Tier I or Tier II indicators for the follow-up”. The objective is “to maintain the same number of indicators currently in the framework in order not to alter significantly the original framework, which is already being implemented in most countries and not to increase the reporting burden on national statistical systems” (para 29).

Big Data – Geospatial and Earth Observations

In the last year there has also been accelerated activity on Big Data, especially on geospatial and earth observations. The first UN World Geospatial Information Congress, held in China in November 2018, brought together academia, civil society and the private sector to explore the potential of big data to “locate, map, view, measure, analyse, model and monitor” global challenges. As such, it represents a conscious effort to link big data, including earth observation and satellite data, to policy measures—so-called ‘evidence-based policy making’.

Global Platform of trusted data, methods and learning for official statistics

Created in 2014 by the UN Global Working Group on Big Data for official statistics, the Global Platform has “evolved from a concept of the Global Working Group into a reality, with delivery of data, methods and learning” (para 6). It holds an increasing number of data sets, such as Landsat and Sentinel data, trial satellite data from Planet.com, AIS ship positioning data and ADSB aircraft positioning data and offers services such as various cloud servers, geospatial analytics services and Jupyter Notebook (para 8). Countries and agencies alike have drawn on these to measure SDG targets: the UK for indicator 9.1.1 on rural population access to all-season roads; the UNEP for indicator 6.6.1, on change in extent of the water related ecosystems over time, which has now moved from Tier III to Tier I.

The Working Group reports that the next task is “to more precisely define and agree on the concepts of its four basic pillars: trusted data, trusted methods, trusted partners and trusted learning. This implies agreement on the ownership of and access to the various large data sets on the Global Platform, whether data and algorithms need to be ‘open’ and how software, services and tools will be ‘Platform independent’“(para 6).  With reference to the use of mobile phone data for official statistics, Eurostat is seeking to clarify legal aspects and enable multi-mobile network operator processing and analysis (para 13).

Harnessing Big Data? – another proposal

The need to tackle how to integrate new sources of data into official statistics has grown increasingly urgent. Taking up this challenge is a working paper by Steve MacFeely and Bojan Nastav, You say you want a [data] Revolution’: A proposal to use unofficial statistics for the SDG Indicator Framework. The paper underlines the urgency of establishing a framework agreement for getting control of the dynamic but essentially fragmented data “revolution”. The authors offer a number of proposals, designed to enable both national and global statistical bodies to exercise some control over the currently unequal landscape, which heavily favours private and contracted sources.

One of these would go beyond using existing unofficial data as inputs to derive SDG indictors, as is currently being done, to also adopt “already compiled unofficial indicators” (p. 7). Calling it a “risk management strategy”, the authors also propose the establishment of “an agreed recognized body, mandated by the Statistical Commission, to review unofficial statistics to determine whether they are ‘fit for purpose’ to populate the global indicator framework, provided they meet international standards and are widely available.  Acknowledging the risks that this may be regarded as an admission of failure on the part of NSOs, they point out that “a (cold) data war is already underway”, with “growing asymmetry in the resources available for public/official and private/unofficial statistics and indicators”. They argued that the risk of “reputation damage” to official statistics arising for certification of unofficial data must be balanced against that arising from official statistics failing to deliver on Agenda 2030 (p.13).

Statistics-policy nexus

Should the UN appoint a senior statistician (AS-G level) with a mandate to coordinate activities of statistical units in funds, programmes, specialized agencies, and secure a stronger voice for statistics in the UN system policy process. This option is presented by the High Level Group for Partnership, Coordination and Capacity Building for statistics for 2030 Agenda background paper: “Modernization of the United Nations Statistical System: A more effective and efficient UN statistical system in the era of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and beyond”.

First floated at 2018 UNSC meeting in 2018, this is one of a number of proposals to address the policy-evidence gap, at global and national levels. The background paper asserts:  “In the era of the 2030 Agenda, different entities are producing metrics and indexes for SDG monitoring that are not aligned to the official SDG indicator framework and are not supported by any intergovernmental or country-led process. This is contravening ECOSOC Resolution 2006/64 and leads to the under-utilization of official statistics, which is in turn a strong disincentive to capacity building efforts.”

The substantive and complex power dynamics involved in closing the evidence-policy gap are examined in a special edition of Global Policy Journal, Knowledge and Politics in Setting and Measuring SDGs, edited by Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and Desmond McNeill.  The 2030 Agenda was hammered out in the context of conflicting visions, ideas and interests between developed and developed countries, requiring negotiation and trade-offs.  Journal contributors explore how these differences did not end with the adoption of the SDGs but continued — and are continuing — in the way that the goals and targets are interpreted in the selection of the indicators to measure progress towards achieving the SDGs. Collectively they warn that “governance by data and indicators can alter meanings of social objectives, shift power relations, reorganize national and local priorities, create perverse incentives and create new narratives”.

Have the energy and struggles, to say nothing of resources, going into the selection, compilation, monitoring and reporting of data and statistics, deflected attention from the goals they are meant to measure? Among the most important are sustainable production and consumption, reducing inequalities (income and non-income), creating sustainable livelihoods, preventing conflict and halting and reversing the impact of climate change. Governments have recognized the urgency of tackling these enormous challenges, but UN deliberations continue to govern by “counting” dollars and data rather than reshaping the global frameworks – of taxation, job creation, investment, dispute resolution, and so on – that are essential for meeting commitments in the 2030 Agenda.

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Screen addiction, there’s still hope

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Screen consumption by girls, boys and young people is rising in the scale of concern among mothers, fathers and education professionals about the risks that it entails in the mental health of this age group. Attention is the starting point and therefore there is still hope.

By Marco Trivelli, Seed Foundation, Santiago, Chile

The business objective of the applications is to generate addiction in such a way that people are interacting with the platforms for as long as possible. With more hours in front of the screen, the greater the audience to whom to expose to the publicity.

Like the gambling, tobacco, sugar, alcohol or trans fat industries, social networks have no incentive to limit consumption and face the dilemma of privileging the common good and protecting their consumers or being carried away by greed by appealing to the freedom to develop economic activities whose only limitation is not to transgress morals or good customs.

In an investigation of the prestigious Wall Street Journal newspaper carried out on the basis of studies carried out within Facebook, the largest and most powerful social network in the world, they found that there was a list of powerful characters to whom the rules of conduct were not applied and therefore the posts were not lowered or their accounts were suspended. Facebook thus avoided the bad publicity of censoring a powerful and generated traffic or views.

Famous is the case of soccer player Neymar who responded to an accusation of rape by publishing intimate images and texts on his WhatsApp without consent and which were later replicated on Facebook and Instagram. They had 56 million views before being downloaded from the web.

Internal Facebook documents also revealed the damage Instagram is doing to the mental health of millions of young people around the world. Instagram is toxic for one in three young people with an effect on eating disorders, anxiety, depression and suicides. Even when these results were generated by the company itself, Instagram defended itself by pointing out that the network did more good than bad.

The United States Congress has requested to know the internal studies carried out by Facebook as have academics and independent study centers, but the company has refused to do so, noting that the results are not conclusive. The answer turns out to be the same as other industries gave in the past.

Becoming aware that the risks of screen addiction in children and young people is decisive for their future is an excellent opportunity for the problem to be addressed in the political processes that we are experiencing in Chile. The screen requires regulation.

At Fundación Semilla we believe that self-regulation or regulation by the State is essential, but not enough. Formal and family education needs to be redesigned by offering constructive and entertaining alternatives. As a personal testimony, I can point out that the spring wind that blew on the national holiday weekend allowed us to fly a large kite together with my grandchildren. We all enjoyed ourselves and were away from the screen for an entire afternoon. Regulation and creativity gives us hope in the task of preventing screen addiction.

Marcelo Trivelli, Seed Foundation, Santiago, Chile

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The Foreign Policy We Need

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Foreign policy is an essential component of any national development strategy. If it changes, external political and trade relations will have to change. Thirty years of a neoliberal strategy have led to an unmediated trade opening to the world economy, while our diplomacy has enthusiastically approached developed countries, distancing itself from Latin America and the countries of the South. The presidential candidate of the left, Gabriel Boric, announces that this must change.

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The free-market logic that reigns within our economy has been fully deployed in the field of foreign relations. A radical opening to the world has been imposed, without protection of the internal market and without regulations in favour of sectors of productive transformation. As a result, trade policy has exacerbated export extractivism, closing off opportunities for productive diversification. Policy has been subordinated to big capital, and not only within our country, but also in our relations with the outside world. The economic policy of “every man for himself”, which destroyed Chilean industry and closed the doors to small business entrepreneurs, was complemented by an indiscriminate opening up of foreign trade.

The incorporation of our country into the global economy has not helped development. Growth, which businessmen, politicians and establishment economists have deified, has generated precarious employment, extreme inequalities, environmental depredation and the depletion of our natural resources. Foreign policy has been functional to this perverse growth. And this kind of growth has held back development.

After a few brief years in the early 1990s, when Chile strengthened its economic and political ties with Latin America, the Concertación governments became dizzy with height. They opted to privilege relations with developed and Asia-Pacific countries. Not to discuss the substantive political issues on the international agenda, but to establish economic and commercial commitments in free trade agreements (FTAs). Foreign policy was subordinated to FTAs. Thus, thanks to FTAs, developed countries and transnational corporations have secured their interests through the indiscriminate liberalisation of goods and services, as well as the extended protection of their investments and intellectual property, in exchange for access for our exports to large markets. This logic was also imposed in our negotiations with middle-developed countries in the Asia-Pacific region, and became the undisputed common sense in international organisations.

It is true that it is in the interest of small countries to open up economically to the world. The narrow internal space makes it difficult for the economy to reproduce itself more broadly. But in the case of Chile, economic expansion through FTAs with developed countries has not turned out to be a good deal (I mean for the country, for the people of Chile). Of course, the primary responsibility does not lie in trade policy, but in economic policy. Indeed, our economic policy does not encourage productive transformation or help to diversify exports and, at the same time, the unregulated opening of trade through FTAs has favoured the attraction of foreign investment, but it has done so in the primary and service sectors. Thus, the FTAs have served to stimulate extractivism, multiplying exports, but not natural resource exports.

In short, our country has consolidated a productive matrix that exports natural resources, and this has been favoured by trade policy. Thus, foreign policy, especially since the 2000s, has supported rapprochement with developed countries, distancing us from our neighbours. This policy, together with the commitments contained in the FTAs, hinders any joint efforts with the countries of the South to act jointly with the world powers on key issues on the international agenda: uncontrolled financial flows, intellectual property, corporate-state disputes, the environment, among others.

Consequently, if the Boric government promotes a change in the productive structure of our economy, it will also have to modify foreign policy and, in particular, foreign trade policy. It will have to introduce substantive changes. Whether unilateral or negotiated (FTA), it will be necessary to regulate the movement of goods, services and capital, in favour of the productive and social priorities proposed by the new development strategy. This has been well highlighted by Petersen and Ahumada, in reply to Ignacio Walker, who staunchly defends the type of globalisation promoted by Chilean governments (see La Tercera of 2 September 2021).

If effective productive diversification is to take place, both unilateral foreign trade policies and trade agreements cannot be neutral in terms of tariffs, financial capital, foreign investment and intellectual property. Discrimination should be made in favour of industrial sectors or those productive processes that add value and knowledge to the new productive matrix. Gabriel Boric’s programme proposes a review of existing trade agreements to assess their relevance to productive diversification. This is not an easy task, but neither is it impossible. This will require renegotiations that will demand goodwill and mutual respect between our country and its counterparts. This was emphasised by the presidential candidate in his meeting with the ambassadors of the European Union (7 September).

On the other hand, faced with the reality of globalisation and the uncertainties that have arisen with the new protectionism, our country will have to recover multilateralism, which is the best defence of small countries against powerful countries. But this policy will be effective if we are able to act as a whole, united with the countries of Latin America and eventually with other regions of the South. In short, a new government of transformations has the difficult task of strengthening the negotiating strength of “developing countries” to support the international agenda on issues of concern to us: protection of ecosystems, feminism, demilitarisation, peace, solidarity with migratory processes, among others.

At the same time, multilateralism in the economic sphere should aim to promote a fairer international trade and financial system, including: the regulation and control of financial transactions and tax havens; flexible and less costly forms of access to cutting-edge technologies; the reduction of deadlines for the protection of intellectual and industrial property, among other issues.

Our project as a country, and the possibility of having a greater presence in the international context, is linked to Latin America and the developing world. Chile must have a foreign policy of rapprochement and economic and diplomatic cooperation with that part of the world with which it shares interests and problems, even in the midst of the difficulties presented by regional institutions. And it should do so independently of political changes in Latin American governments. It is true that the issue is complex. Relations with the countries of the region, and in particular with our neighbours, are not easy.

Determined efforts will have to be made to attend with special concern to political and economic relations with neighbouring countries. Chile’s security and stability, and consequently our own democracy, are linked to the need to eliminate all sources of tension with our neighbours. This is of prime importance. Diplomatic, political and economic conflicts with neighbouring countries exalt chauvinism and stimulate arguments in favour of armament in certain sectors of our society, with high financial costs. Renewed bilateral efforts are therefore needed to foster mutual trust and, above all, to move forward with simultaneous demilitarisation initiatives.

Chile’s border understandings with Argentina in the mid-1990s have recently been obscured by the dispute over the maritime shelf on the continental ice. At the same time, the disputes with Peru and Bolivia, resolved at the Hague Court, do not lessen the historical resentments of Bolivians and Peruvians and Chileans. This must be overcome. It is necessary to embark on a determined path to put an end to tensions in order to ensure diplomatic rapprochement and peace between our countries.

Finally, there is the complex issue of regional integration, where serious difficulties have arisen in recent years. This sets limits to the deepening of Chile’s relations with the countries of the region and at other times leads to uncomfortable disputes. Consequently, it might be necessary to prioritise sub-national integration initiatives, between Chile’s regions with Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. This may be more effective and, in line with the decentralising interest, would allow for interesting citizen and territorial links between neighbouring countries. This, at the same time, would favour the development of mutual trust between our countries, based on regional governments and social organisations.

This does not mean renouncing plurinational integration schemes. Firstly, it is necessary to revalue ALADI, which has allowed tariff liberalisation between all the countries of the region, especially in the 1990s; but unfortunately, in recent years, it has had little political support. Second, Chile has the opportunity to play an interesting role in converging plurilateral integration initiatives between the Atlantic (Mercosur) and Pacific (the Andean Development Community and the Pacific Alliance) schemes. Finally, the new government should support CELAC as the political integration body for Latin American and Caribbean countries. And, as recently proposed by Mexican President López Obrador, CELAC should hopefully become a replacement project for the OAS.

Foreign policy and trade policy are indispensable instruments for promoting a new development project in our country. Both must intelligently accompany productive changes, as well as economic and social policies, in order to break with neoliberalism.

Source: Pressenza

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The Spy Who Phoned In

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Is the phone in your pocket spying on you? As cell phones have become ubiquitous, government intelligence agencies have poured vast resources into hacking them, remotely stripping people of their privacy in the name of national security. Now, a burgeoning industry has emerged, generating huge profits for shadowy corporations that specialize in developing ever-more innovative ways to secretly infect digital devices with spyware. Activists, journalists, human rights defenders and dissidents the world over have been surveilled and in a number of cases arrested, tortured or killed. This week, Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity research organization based at the University of Toronto, revealed the existence of a “zero-click” exploit that exposed 1.65 billion Apple iPhone and other Apple devices to a complete and almost undetectable takeover by the spyware known as Pegasus, produced by NSO Group, a private company.

By Amy Goodman

Pegasus spyware grants unlimited access to all of an infected device’s content, from chat messages to emails to phone calls, allows control of the phone’s microphone and camera, and shares the phone’s location in real time.

“NSO Group is a mercenary surveillance company based in Israel,” Ronald Deibert, director of Citizen Lab, said on the Democracy Now! news hour. “NSO Group first came on our radar back in 2016, when we discovered it was being used by the United Arab Emirates to target a human rights defender named Ahmed Mansoor. Since then, we and others have documented extensive abuses of this company’s technology.”

If you believe NSO Group’s founders, the software is only legally deployed to catch criminals, terrorists, pedophiles and the like. Not convinced, Amnesty International and 155 other civil society organizations and technology experts issued a joint letter calling for an immediate moratorium on the sale, transfer and use of surveillance technology: “NSO Group’s spyware has been used to facilitate human rights violations around the world on a massive scale,” the letter states. “It has become clear that its technology facilitates systemic abuse…if the recent allegations about the use of Pegasus are even partly true, then that red line has been crossed again and again with total impunity.”

Among the cases cited by Amnesty is that of Cecilio Pineda Birto, a Mexican journalist shot dead on March 2nd, 2017. He had been receiving death threats, and just that morning announced a forthcoming report on corrupt local officials colluding with organized crime figures. In 2021, Pineda’s phone number appeared on a leaked list of about 50,000 cell phone numbers from all over the world, said to be targets of the Pegasus software. Scores of journalists from the Forbidden Stories collaboration and Citizen Lab reported on the leaked list, which included hundreds of journalists and activists as well as many world leaders.

“If you don’t do anything to stop the sale of this technology, it’s not just going to be 50,000 targets. It’s going to be 50 million targets,” NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden told the Guardian last month. “And it’s going to happen much more quickly than any of us expect. The way we do that is to halt the trade of this technology.”

Pegasus was used to target phones owned by family members of Jamal Kashoggi, the Saudi dissident and Washington Post journalist, both before and after his brutal murder by a Saudi kill team inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd, 2018.

Another victim of the NSO Group’s spyware is Omar Radi, an independent journalist in Morocco who has long reported on corruption, land expropriation and human rights abuses by the Moroccan government. In 2020, Amnesty International issued a report with proof that Radi’s iPhone had been infected by Pegasus spyware.

“Pegasus is a silent program. You don’t feel it,” Omar Radi told us on Democracy Now! in July, 2020, just two weeks before he was arrested by Moroccan police. “It can use your microphone, it can use your keyboard, it can use your screen, and get any information that is stored in your phone. I don’t know the amount of information they’ve stolen from my phone.” Omar Radi was recently sentenced to six years in prison.

“NSO Group is merely one among many mercenary spyware companies that exist globally,” Citizen Lab’s Ron Deibert said. “Governments that have deep pockets can simply go and purchase this type of despotism as a service off the shelf. We’ve never seen anything like that historically, the privatization of this type of digital espionage.”

Apple issued a software update that supposedly fixed this problem. But hackers will certainly find more holes in these digital device operating systems. Without a ban on Pegasus and spyware like it, human rights defenders, journalists and others will continue to be targeted, spied on, beaten, arrested and killed.

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