Drawing of a hand holding a phone that displays an eye while spyware downloads. Audiovisual icons show the range of media spyware can access or activate.
Illustration by Walid Haddad

Zero-click surveillance and press freedom: When spyware turns phones into weapons

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CPJ released a new report Thursday, “Zero-click Spyware: Enemy of the press,” about how zero-click surveillance threatens reporters, sources, and global press freedom. The report explains the insidious nature of spyware, its existential threat to journalists, and how it has caused fear and disruption in the lives and work of journalists around the world. Spyware technology “can dissuade journalists from reporting on critical stories or discourage would-be sources from coming forward, carving a hole into the very fabric of journalism,” says Gypsy Guillén Kaiser, CPJ’s advocacy and communications director.

The report includes numerous interviews with journalists, tech experts, and press freedom advocates about the scale and scope of the problem—and what, if anything, can be done to fight it.

CPJ calls for export control listings and targeted sanctions to be enacted against those who have spied on journalists and the barring of all government agencies known to attack press freedom or lacking regulatory resources to purchase spyware. Critically, all governments should join the Export Controls and Human Rights Initiative to build consensus for global regulatory action.

More in the report:

Global press freedom updates

  • “To persecute any critical voice”: Jailed Guatemalan journalist José Rubén Zamora’s son on his father’s arrest. Watch a video on the case here
  • Belarusian journalists detained, forced to make “confession” videos
  • Vietnam transfers International Press Freedom Award winner Pham Doan Trang to remote prison facility
  • Voice of America reporter Sithu Aung Myint sentenced to three years in prison in Myanmar
  • Hong Kong internet radio host Edmund Wan Yiu-sing sentenced to 32 months in prison
  • Kazakh outlet Orda, staff subjected to months of threats, online harassment, cyberattacks
  • Two journalists arrested over criminal complaints in Iraqi Kurdistan
  • Two armed attackers shoot at journalist Erick Niño’s home, office in Colombia
  • Somali intelligence personnel arrest press rights advocate Abdalle Ahmed Mumin
  • DRC journalist Gauthier Sey Tshiang sentenced to one year in prison, fined over reports on public official
  • Zimbabwean authorities charge journalist Hope Chizuzu under cybercrime law
  • Israel Defense Forces shoot, injure two Palestinian journalists in Nablus
  • CPJ submits report on Brazil to United Nations Universal Periodic Review


Filipino American investigative journalist and Rappler founder Maria Ressa speaks at an event at CPJ headquarters, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Press Freedom Center, in New York on September 21, 2022. (CPJ)
Filipino American investigative journalist and Rappler founder Maria Ressa speaks at an event at CPJ headquarters, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Press Freedom Center, in New York on September 21, 2022. (CPJ)

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. should immediately withdraw all charges and cases against Maria Ressa, her co-accused, and her Manila-based news outlet Rappler, said the Hold The Line Coalition, which comprises more than 80 organizations around the world, including CPJ, on October 12.

On Monday, the Philippine Court of Appeals rejected Maria Ressa’s motion for a reconsideration of her 2020 conviction on a trumped-up charge of criminal cyber libel. After a two-year struggle to overturn her conviction, all that stands between Ressa’s freedom and a lengthy prison sentence is a final appeal to the Supreme Court, and the government’s political will. Watch a video of Ressa, who is a Nobel laureate and CPJ’s 2018 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Awardee, in conversation with Amal Clooney, Ressa’s legal counsel and a 2020 recipient of the same award, at CPJ’s New York headquarters in September here.

On Saturday, October 15, the eighth annual James W. Foley Freedom Run, benefitting the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, will take place in cities across the United States. The foundation promotes journalist safety and commemorates the life of freelance journalist James W. Foley who was murdered in Syria in 2014. There are several in-person runs scheduled, but participants can run wherever and whenever they choose on that day. CPJ will have a team participating in the run.

Register for the run here and post your pictures on social media using the hashtag #IRunForJim.

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