Israeli spyware firm must ensure new policy is not just 'whitewashing'
NSO Group has been under pressure over revelations its invasive technology was used against journalists and human rights defenders
‘The NSO policy comes too late for the scores of activists targeted by abusive governments using the firm’s spyware’ - Danna Ingleton
Responding to news that the Israeli firm NSO Group - whose spyware has been used by several governments to target activists - has announced it will take steps to prevent its tools being used to commit human rights abuses, Danna Ingleton, Deputy Director of Amnesty Tech, said:
“NSO has seemingly bowed to pressure following our campaign against its malicious spyware.
“The company needs to demonstrate this is more than an attempt to whitewash its tarnished reputation. It doesn’t get to pick and choose when it should respect human rights - all companies have this responsibility anyway.
“While on the surface it appears a step forward, NSO has a track record of refusing to take responsibility. The firm has sold invasive digital surveillance to governments who have used these products to track, intimidate and silence activists, journalists and critics.
“The NSO policy comes too late for the scores of activists targeted by abusive governments using the firm’s spyware, including UAE activist Ahmed Mansoor who was sentenced to ten years in prison in 2018. Amnesty International has also been targeted with NSO Group Technologies.
“NSO has repeatedly tried to avoid accountability for their involvement in such flagrant abuses, so it is little wonder many are sceptical about today’s announcement. Governments also need to act. There needs to be tougher legal requirements on respecting human rights for the spyware industry, which time and time again has trampled on the rights to privacy, freedom of opinion and expression.”
Research by Amnesty and others has documented the use by several governments of NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to target a wide swathe of civil society, including - at least 24 human rights defenders, journalists and parliamentarians in Mexico; an Amnesty employee; Saudi Arabian activists Omar Abdulaziz, Yahya Assiri and Ghanem Al-Masarir; award-winning Emirati human rights campaigner Ahmed Mansoor; and, allegedly, murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Amnesty is currently supporting a legal action against the Israeli Ministry of Defence, to demand that it revoke NSO Group’s export licence.
All countries have an obligation to protect human rights in the context of corporate activities, including through regulation and oversight. Meanwhile, all companies have a responsibility to respect human rights throughout their operations and supply chains - meaning they must avoid causing or contributing to human rights abuses, and take steps to identify and address human rights risks in their operations.