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Amnesty brings legal action against Israeli spyware company

31st Jan 2020

Nadine Osman

Amnesty International has asked the Tel Aviv District Court to order Israel to revoke the export license of NSO Group, whose software Pegasus is alleged to have been used by governments to spy on journalists and dissidents.

The legal action which starts on January 16 is being brought by approximately 30 members and supporters of Amnesty International as well as others from the human rights community. According to Amnesty International, Israel’s Defence Ministry asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, or if it proceeds to restrict reporting on national security grounds.

In August 2018, an Amnesty staff member received a message on their phone with a link claiming to be about a protest outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington, DC, sent at a time when Amnesty was campaigning for the release of jailed Saudi women human rights activists. If clicked, the link would have secretly installed NSO malware, allowing the sender to obtain near-total control of the Amnesty phone.

The Israeli company’s phone hacking software, Pegasus, has been linked to political surveillance in Mexico, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, according to University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, which researches digital surveillance, security, privacy and accountability.

In October, WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook Inc, sued NSO in the US federal court in San Francisco, accusing it of helping government spies break into the phones of about 1,400 users across four continents. Targets of the alleged hacking spree included diplomats, political dissidents, journalists and senior government officials.

NSO has denied the allegations, saying it solely “provides technology to licensed government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to help them fight terrorism and serious crime.”

Danna Ingleton, Deputy Director of Amnesty Tech, said the tech firm “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.”

“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. The Ministry of Defence must not be allowed to hide behind a veil of secrecy when it comes to human rights abuses.”

Sukti Dhital, Executive Director of the Bernstein Institute for Human Rights, said, “In authorising exports by NSO — a company that has sold its invasive software products to governments known to abuse human rights — the Ministry of Defence has failed in its human rights law obligations to protect the rights to privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of opinion.”

The ministry in a statement said its licensing assessments took into account various considerations such as “the security clearance of the product and assessment of the country toward which the product will be marketed.”

The NSO’s phone hacking software has already been implicated in a series of human rights abuses across Latin America and the Middle East, including an espionage scandal in Panama and an attempt to spy on an employee of the London-based Amnesty group.

NSO came under particular scrutiny over the allegation that its spyware played a role in the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence event is to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to society. Over 850 people from diverse background, Muslim and non-Muslim, attended the gala dinner.

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