US reportedly renews investigation of Israeli spyware company NSO Group

Leading technology companies have said NSO Group is ‘powerful and dangerous’ and should be held liable to US anti-hacking laws. (photo:  Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images)
Israeli spyware company is facing increased scrutiny which may be part of larger Biden shift emphasizing human rights.

By Daniel Sonnenfeld | The Media Line | Mar 3, 2021

“NSO have simply been caught a few times’ in the surveilling of activists and journalists…”
Prof. Orr Dunkelman, director of The Center for Cyber Law and Policy

The US Department of Justice is showing renewed interest in an Israeli cyber company previously tied to the surveilling of journalists and rights activists around the world, after an FBI investigation began in 2017 was reportedly “stalled” in 2020. Israeli spyware company NSO Group is facing a lawsuit in the US filed by the messaging platform WhatsApp. The renewed efforts are part of the Biden administration agenda to increase its emphasis on human rights and crack down on the Saudis, experts say.

The Guardian reported on Monday that the Justice Department is reviving its examination of NSO Group. The report said that Justice Department lawyers had recently contacted WhatsApp for information regarding NSO Group’s alleged 2019 targeting of 1,400 users of the messaging app, which is at the heart of a lawsuit filed by WhatsApp against the Israeli company.

NSO Group is based in the coastal city of Herzliya, located in central Israel. The company is most famous for a tool it calls Pegasus, which reportedly has been used to target rights activists, journalists and government officials in such diverse locations as Mexico, Morocco and India. Pegasus, a smartphone spyware, is said to allow activities such as spying on phone calls and messages, as well as enabling the phone’s microphone and camera. While the company repeatedly has been criticized for its use against government critics around the world, it insists that the tool is sold for the sole purpose of fighting crime and terrorism.

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