‘Amnesty International is calling on Israel to bar a cyber warfare company from selling its technology internationally.
A court in Tel Aviv heard the case against NSO Group on Thursday, which is being brought by dozens of members and supporters of Amnesty’s Israel branch.
Amnesty International and New York University School of Law’s Bernstein Institute for Human Rights and Global Justice Clinic are supporting the legal action. They are calling on Israel’s defense ministry to revoke NSO Group’s export license.
“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, a tech specialist for Amnesty.
The Tel Aviv court complied with a request from the defense ministry to hold the session behind closed doors.
Ingleton called this a sign of the “cozy complicity between governments and the shadowy surveillance industry,” and an effort “to avoid the full glare of public scrutiny.”
Gil Naveh of Amnesty Israel said this kind of concealment has become routine practice, especially when there is “widespread evidence of misuse,” as in the case of NSO Group’s products.
Danger of the malware
NSO Group was founded by two veterans of Unit 8200, a high-tech spy branch of the Israeli military, seen as the equivalent of the US National Security Agency.
Veterans of Unit 8200 have revealed how their job included gaining information about Palestinians to be used for “political persecution.”
NSO Group produces a sophisticated cyber weapon called Pegasus which allows its operator to hijack smartphones undetected and send private data back to those doing the spying.
The espionage firm claims it only sells Pegasus to governments. But Amnesty notes that it is sold to “governments known to abuse human rights,” and is demanding its export license be withdrawn entirely.
The malware has been used to target human rights activists, journalists and government officials in dozens of countries.
Suspected operators include Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kazakhstan.
Using a security vulnerability in WhatsApp, NSO Group also enabled the hacking of American citizens’ phones.
Amnesty International’s own staffers were targeted by the Israeli firm.
The human rights group’s lawsuit is not the only legal action against NSO Group.
Saudi activist Omar Abdulaziz sued the Israeli company in December 2018 alleging that NSO Group violates international law by selling its software to governments that abuse human rights.
Pegasus was apparently used to intercept conversations between Abdulaziz and slain Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. They were close friends.
Khashoggi disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018, where he was killed and dismembered by a hit squad sent from Saudi Arabia.’
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