A U.N. report warns the right to privacy is under siege as an increasing number of governments are using spyware to keep tabs on their people.

The U.N. human rights office said urgent steps are needed to address the spread of spyware. It noted many governments are using modern digital networked technologies to monitor, control and oppress their populations. U.N. officials say the technologies must be reined in and regulated in accord with international human rights laws and standards.

Human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell said the report details how surveillance tools such as the Pegasus software can turn most smartphones into 24-hour surveillance devices. She said the encroachment into peoples’ privacy is very concerning.

“For example, the smartphones that people have, they can be made into devices that actually offer people insights into what we do, where we go, who we meet with, what we say,” she said. “And that is a very, very powerful tool indeed, which is precisely why we are making these very strong calls in this report today.”

Human rights organizations have accused countries like China of building a vast surveillance and security system to keep close watch on their populations.

The U.N. report does not name the countries that use digital surveillance technologies. However, Throssell notes more than 500 companies reportedly have developed, marketed and sold such spyware to governments. She said governmental authorities often falsify their reasons for acquiring such digital technology.

“While such spyware tools are purportedly deployed to combat terrorism and crime, they have often been used for illegitimate reasons,” Throssell said. “For example, to clamp down on critical or dissenting views and on those who express them including journalists, opposition political figures and human rights defenders.”

U.N. officials are calling for a moratorium on the use and sale of hacking tools until adequate safeguards to protect human rights are in place. They warn the right to privacy is more at risk now than ever and action is needed now to stop the abuse.

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