LatAm in Focus: Can a Lawsuit Stem Spyware Use in Central America?

By Chase Harrison

After getting hacked by Pegasus in El Salvador, El Faro’s Roman Gressier is part of a groundbreaking lawsuit in a U.S. court to rein in the spyware.

It happened four times. Roman Gressier, a journalist at Salvadoran outlet El Faro, discovered in 2021 that his phone had been infected by the Pegasus spyware software, giving someone access to all of his smartphone activity. 

Roman Gressier 
Roman Gressier

But who?

That’s the question at the center of a groundbreaking case Gressier and his colleagues have filed in a U.S. court. They’re hoping to get NSO Group, the Israeli company behind the Pegasus software, to reveal its client and block it from hacking their phones again.

“There's a complete lack of accountability for these attacks.”

Gressier believes the case is the tip of the iceberg for the growing global problem of spyware worldwide. “There's not substantial regulation of the use of NSO spyware or the whole web of related spyware firms. What there are, are winks and promises from the companies,” he told AS/COA Online’s Chase Harrison. 

Gressier explains how the use of Pegasus software has become part of the arsenal of repression used by Central American governments. “They don't need to instill a culture of intimidation or paranoia because, to a certain extent, in certain circles that already exists,” Gressier explained, describing the situation in El Salvador and Honduras, two countries where constitutional rights are currently suspended. 

But even if Gressier and his colleagues are successful, the journalist worries that Pegasus—along with an increasing mosaic of spyware tools—will be impossible to dislodge. “My hope is that ... we can develop better strategies to navigate in that environment,” he concludes. “Because my suspicion is that things as we see them now will continue to get rougher in the coming years.”

Editor's note: The original version of this podcast stated that there are 22 plaintiffs in the case. The correct figure at the time of publishing was 18.

Latin America in Focus Podcast

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This podcast was produced by Luisa Leme.

The music in this podcast is “Epílogo para Jazmín” by Monique Fernandez for Americas Society. Learn more about upcoming concerts: musicoftheamericas.org