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Media Defence Raises Press Freedom Concerns Over Spyware at Brazil’s Supreme Court Hearing

Media Defence Raises Press Freedom Concerns Over Spyware at Brazil’s Supreme Court Hearing

At a recent public hearing held by the Federal Supreme Court (STF), Media Defence and partners ABRAJI and Tornavoz highlighted the significant risks posed by authorities’ use of secret surveillance tools on personal communication devices. The hearing sought to hear civil society and the academy on the implications of spyware tools and how to mitigate potential rights violations.

Speaking for Media Defence, Tornavoz and ABRAJI, Charlene Nagae, director and founder of Tornavoz, drew on examples from Mexico, El Salvador, and Azerbaijan where Pegasus has been used to persecute critical voices. Nagae warned, “If these software tools are authorised in Brazil, we risk compromising freedom of expression and journalistic activity.” In addition, spyware undermines journalists’ ability to protect sources, an essential aspect of investigative reporting and press freedom.

Media Defence urged the STF to consider these implications. Our stance aligns with broader concerns voiced during the hearing, where various experts and representatives highlighted the need for careful oversight and legislative evolution to protect independent journalism and democratic rights in the digital age. Estela Aranha, from the UN High-Level Advisory Council on Artificial Intelligence, cautioned against indiscriminate spyware access by authorities, citing “immense and irreversible risks” associated with such untraceable and uncontrollable tools.

Spyware’s misuse as a tool of transnational oppression against journalists worldwide was a key point. It instils fear, silences dissent, and erodes trust in digital communication platforms, fundamentally undermining freedom of expression. The call from civil society was clear: governments must endeavour to establish regulations that align with international human rights standards on surveillance technologies.

As the STF continues its deliberations, we remain dedicated to the protection of independent critical voices and the promotion of free speech in the digital age.

*This hearing was initiated by Justice Cristiano Zanin and is a part of the Claim of Non-Compliance with a Fundamental Precept (ADPF) 1143.

Interested in this topic?

For further insights into this critical issue, explore our free resources on the right to Privacy, Security and Data Protection, on our Resource Hub. Media Defence have been at the forefront of litigating against State targeting of journalists with Pegasus spyware, see here and here.

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