Amnesty International has become the latest organisation to sue an Israeli spyware firm whose surveillance software is used to snoop on journalists and human rights campaigners around the world.
NSO Group sells its powerful Pegasus software to governments with concerning human rights records. These states then use it to hack into the phones of targeted academics, lawyers, activists and reporters, including some based in Britain.
Amnesty’s Israel team this week said the Israeli government had “stood by and watched it happen,” arguing that concerns had been raised about NSO Group for years but that its export licence still had not been revoked by the Ministry of Defence.
The charity has documented cases of individuals being targeted by Pegasus, including two Moroccan human rights defenders in October last year, as well as journalists and campaigners from Mexico, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Last year Facebook sued NSO Group for allegedly targeting 1,400 users of its encrypted messaging service WhatsApp, and this week’s legal action is being supported by New York University School of Law’s Bernstein Institute for Human Rights and Global Justice Clinic.
NSO Group denies any wrongdoing and Israel’s Ministry of Justice has already asked a judge to dismiss Amnesty’s lawsuit, or at the very least to hear it behind closed doors, but the charity was left unimpressed.
“NSO continues to profit from its spyware being used to commit abuses against activists across the world, and the Israeli Government has stood by and watched it happen,” said Danna Ingleton, deputy director of Amnesty Tech.
“The best way to stop NSO’s powerful spyware products reaching repressive governments is to revoke the company’s export licence, and that is exactly what this legal case seeks to do. It is overwhelmingly in the public interest and for press freedom that this case is heard in open court.”