The prefix has been used, basically since the emergence of science fiction and the internet, as a way of distinguishing aspects of daily life in the « real world » and their virtual counterpart. May it be cyber sex, cyber security, cyber attacks, Elon Musk’s cyber truck, or – a big topic in Brazilian public discourse these days – cyber defense. The word implies something out of the ordinary, new, and futuristic. For many the crossover to virtuality additionally comes with a seeming detachment of social norms, morals, and laws that are enclosing the subjects. When already sensible matters such as security and defense, may it be on a personal level or in the sense of state warfare – enter a different realm of right or wrong, imminent consequences are inevitable.
In the context of cyber defense for example, the technological advance has given conventional defense a range of new possibilities to interfere with personal life, like espionage through CCTVs or through your own mobile device in your pocket. Espionage as a means of defending groups, may it be a tribe, a national or any other social group is probably as old as humanity itself. Though, up until the emergence of the internet there had been strict restrictions to what information can be obtained from your target of interest. Those barriers are now vanishing with modern spyware. The central questions are: Does this mean that we also should extend our moral abstentions to the new tools of information acquisition? Do we accept or even welcome the polemic tools or do the new possibilities not free us from preexisting moral or judicial rules?
After Amnesty International shed light on the Israeli spyware that goes by « Pegasus », Brazilians are given reasons to be concerned. Convenient for the on-going discussion, the revelations also happened the same year where the Brazilian government decided to pass a law on data protection. Although no records emerged that the Brazilian people had been a direct target of the spyware, some agencies might have sought out the program in the past.
The new data protection law, in the making since 2020, includes everyone from large to small businesses. Whoever is selling, for example, over the internet during the pandemic, also needs to adapt to the new rules. The law warns to be extra careful when companies request more sensitive data, such as sexual orientation, biometrics, religion, among others. This is because, used in the wrong way, this data can lead to discrimination.
Funnily enough, those data breaches seem to be harmless when compared to the privacy threat posed by Pegasus. That is, because the software has access to basically all forms of input your mobile devices can make a record of, even if you are not aware of it, like when the camera is recording without you knowing. Cybersecurity experts in Brazil say they wouldn’t be surprised if Brazilians had already been targets of Pegasus, although up to this date no concrete evidence of such an incident has been brought to light. What is known is a list of potential Pegasus customers in Latin America, which contains a number of Brazilian names. Drug-related investigations and anti-narcotic events create high demand for the information that the software can provide.
WhatsApp and Telegram operate with an end-to-end encryption so messages are not available to any Brazilian authorities, such as intelligence services, courts, and the federal police. On some occasions the court even ruled to block WhatsApp and the VP of mother firm Facebook has even been briefly arrested due to resistance in sharing data with authorities. Clearly having an interest in the software, the Brazilian federal police has finally been made an offer of seven Pegasus licences for USD 2.7 million. In the end, the fact that the extracted evidence is considered useless in court had put a halt on the purchase, and not moral implications or a code of conduct.
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