The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Salvadoran authorities to respond to the discovery of Pegasus spyware on cellphones belonging to at least 30 journalists in El Salvador, joining 14 organizations, media outlets, and individuals in a public statement available in English and Spanish.
The statement identified “one of the most persistent and intensive known uses of Pegasus to surveil journalists in the world” based on forensic analysis of dozens of phones by rights and research groups Access Now, Front Line Defenders, The Citizen Lab, Amnesty International, Fundación Acceso, and SocialTIC.
Devices belonging to 35 people, mostly journalists along with a few members of civil society, were infected with Pegasus between July 2020 and November 2021, according to the findings; more than half worked for independent digital media outlet El Faro. Pegasus can control phones and extract content without the owners’ knowledge, and some of the devices were infiltrated more than 40 times, the statement said.
Since his election in 2019, Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele and other government officials have consistently used anti-press rhetoric and harassed independent media outlets, individual journalists, and others critical of his administration.
According to the statement, it is not clear who was responsible for the surveillance, but the Israel-based NSO Group says it only licenses its Pegasus spyware to government agencies investigating crime and terrorism. CPJ emailed the company to ask about clients in El Salvador but did not receive a response before publication.
CPJ has documented how spyware is used to target journalists and those close to them around the world and called for a moratorium on its trade pending better safeguards.