Forensic Architecture Team
In Collaboration with
Laura Poitras/Praxis Films
Sarah Su (sound), Bethany Edgoose (video)
Exhibition Graphics Preparation
Eyebeam Center for the Future of Journalism, CyberPeace Institute, Amnesty International
This project maps the use of the malware Pegasus – made by the Israeli cyber-weapons company NSO Group – against human rights defenders and journalists worldwide. It records the experiences and resistance of global civil society in the face of rising digital violence enacted by states and corporations.
We started this project in 2017 after learning that our colleagues in Mexico had been targeted with Pegasus. We later understood that other friends and partners working on human rights issues in different parts of the world were being surveilled by the same invasive malware. Unknowingly, they were all bound by a similar experience of digital violence as they struggled against their repressive states.
Digital Violence tells the story of a complex form of digital targeting that seeks to silence and extinguish the networks of collaboration belonging to those under surveillance.
The project took shape during lockdown – and while reliance on remote communication made us all the more vulnerable to monitoring – a dispersed community of practice also began forming across borders and continents.
We learned that NSO Group is part of an ecosystem of Israeli cyber-weapons companies that developed in the context of Israel’s mass surveillance of daily Palestinian life. We joined forces once more with Laura Poitras – who like some of us has a lived experience of state surveillance and harassment – to speak with targeted activists from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Morocco, India, Palestine, Rwanda, Mexico and Togo. We engaged investigators from The Citizen Lab and Amnesty International, along with famed whistleblower Edward Snowden and musician Brian Eno, to map the global landscape of cyber-surveillance.
Hacks rarely target individuals alone. Instead, digital infection moves like a contagion, within networks of collaboration and friendship. Those digitally infected suffer acts of violence in the physical world. Beyond exposing the sheer number of activists targeted, this project documents a collective experience of violence that demands common action.
Released in early July 2021, our three-dimensional platform has since been updated to include the confirmed targets reported in the Pegasus Project, including the hacks of prominent opposition and civil society figures in Poland.
Pegasus in Poland
In December 2021, reports on the use of Pegasus by Polish authorities were published after the Associated Press and the Citizen Lab revealed that the spyware had been used against prominent opposition figures and government critics in the final weeks of the pivotal 2019 parliamentary elections.
The hacks were incessant in the leadup to the elections—occurring daily, even hourly—and stopped only a few days after the vote.
In January 2022, documents presented at a Polish senate hearing revealed that Poland’s Central Anticorruption Bureau (CBA) had allegedly purchased Pegasus in 2017 using funds from the Ministry of Justice.
Digital Violence: The Spatial Database
This projection consists of visuals from Forensic Architecture’s continuously updated interactive spatial platform which maps all known events related to the NSO Group’s Pegasus malware.
The project is based on almost two years of open source research that mined dozens of human rights reports including, most prominently, those by The Citizen Lab and Amnesty International, as well as legal files, hundreds of news reports, and dozens of interviews with people targeted using Pegasus.
Almost two thousand datapoints within this matrix convey information about export licences, alleged purchases, digital infections, and events in thephysical world such as the intimidation, assault, defamation, and murder of individuals reportedly targeted.
Together, they reveal patterns and correlations within the ways that digital targeting using Pegasus operates: cyber-surveillance targets networks of collaboration and is consistently entangled with a spectrum of physical violations against those individuals. Pegasus extends the reach of state power to combine the digital targeting of human rights dissenters in exile, while also the physical targeting of their colleagues and families still residing in their home country.
To augment the experiential dimension of this database, the projection and the accompanying open sound is the product of Forensic Architecture’s collaboration with legendary composer Brian Eno to translate the data into modulated sounds that are continuously updated as more events are exposed.
Brian Eno and Forensic Architecture
Digital Violence Platform
These films are part of our broder series of video investigations – “The Pegasus Stories” – which draw from the platform to tell the stories of human rights defenders and investigators from around the world. They spoke to Forensic Architecture remotely about their experiences with Pegasus despite knowing that doing so risked provoking additional surveillance.
Pegasus in Mexico; Targeting the Investigators Pegasus in Saudi Arabia
by Forensic Architecture with the support of Amnesty International. Interviews in collaboration with Laura Poitras. Narrated by Edward Snowden.
Forensic Architecture is a research agency that carries out investigations in partnership with legal teams, grassroots activists, and communities affected by state repression, police brutality, border regimes and environmental violence.
Forensic Architecture was founded more than a decade ago, with its earliest projects dedicated to mapping the physical and architectural violence of Israeli settler colonialism in Palestine. With this new body of work, we map the way such forms of domination have migrated to the digital domain and been exported to other governments around the world.