The rights groups said the intrusions happened between 2019 and September 2023 during a growing crackdown by the Jordanian government on protests and critics that saw some of the hacking victims arrested.
Previously, only five Jordanians have been identified as targets of Pegasus, a software program developed by an Israeli company, NSO Group, that when introduced to a phone is capable of extracting its contents as well as turning on the phone’s camera and microphone. The new findings show that use of the tool in the country is much broader than previously known.
The new hacking targets include five members of the National Forum for the Defense of Freedoms, according to Access Now, which worked with the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others to uncover the hacking attempts. The forum provides free legal help to journalists and others arrested for posting opinions online, as well as political parties and trade unionists.
Two victims work in the region for Human Rights Watch, which in 2022 authored a report critical of the Jordanian government’s use of vague laws to charge people with criticizing the country’s king, “inciting strife” or “insulting an official agency.”
Two of the 16 journalists targeted work for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, an international news outlet. “Both have worked on local and regional components of several global cross-border investigations into corruption, shadowy financial systems, and offshore companies,” Access Now said in its report.
Jordan plays a key role in Middle East diplomacy, bordering the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Israel proper, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. An outpost in a corner of the country near Syria was the site of an attack early Sunday by Iranian-backed militants that killed three members of an Army Reserve unit from Georgia. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group that includes Iranian-backed militias, claimed responsibility for the attack, an assertion U.S. officials said they accepted. The deaths were the first of U.S. troops since fighting began between Israel and the Hamas militant organization in Gaza.
The new report follows similar discoveries in other countries, including India, in the wake of Apple warnings and better detection tools from Citizen Lab, Amnesty International and others.
The United States has placed NSO on a Commerce Department blacklist prohibiting U.S. companies from doing business with it because its tools run counter to U.S. interests.