Amnesty International Takes Legal Action Against Israeli Surveillance Company NSO
Members of the human rights organization filed a petition with Tel Aviv district court, asking for NSO’s export license to be rescinded after its malware was allegedly used to spy on an Amnesty staff member
Members of human rights organization Amnesty International are calling on the Israeli Ministry of Defense to revoke the export license of cyber surveillance company NSO Group. In a petition filed with Tel Aviv district court Monday morning and reviewed by Calcalist, members of the organization alleged that NSO’s spyware was used in attempted surveillance of an Amnesty staff member.Amnesty has filed two previous requests with the defense ministry to halt NSO’s export license but was turned down, according to the petition.
Amnesty first announced that one of its staff members, a Saudi human rights activist, has been the target of an attempted spyware attack linked to NSO in August 2018.
NSO offices. Photo: Orel Cohen
Thirty of the organization’s members in Israel are represented in the petition, filed by Israeli human rights lawyer Eitay Mack in collaboration with Amnesty International and the Robert L. Bernstein Institute for Human Rights at the New York University (NYU).
NSO develops spyware designed to remotely take over a smartphone and gain access to calls, messages, and any other stored data. The Israeli firm has repeatedly stated that it sells exclusively to governments and law enforcement agencies and that its spyware has saved tens of thousands of lives. NSO made headlines around the world due to the alleged use of its spyware to surveil journalists, politicians, and human rights activists.
According to Monday’s petition, NSO’s Pegasus spyware was utilized in 2018 in an attempt to hijack the smartphone of an unnamed Amnesty member. An anonymous message sent to member’s phone was discovered to be linked to a server known to serve Pegasus’ operating platform. While the employee did not open the insidious message, Amnesty surmised that the spyware might have been installed on the device by other means. According to the petition, Amnesty suspects that information about the organization’s members in Saudi Arabia and other countries could have been obtained, resulting in potential risk to their personal freedom and well-being.
Responding to Calcalist's request for comment, a spokeswoman for NSO called the petition "baseless," saying that NSO adheres to Israeli laws and to clear ethical guidelines put in place to prevent misuse of the technology.