Human rights organisation Amnesty International is urging governments around the world to introduce tougher spyware regulations that ensure spyware companies respect human rights.
The news comes after Israeli firm NSO Group announced that it will take steps towards preventing its tools from being used to commit human rights abuses.
Amnesty Tech deputy director Danna Ingleton said: “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.”
The NSO Group has been under scrutiny after it was revealed that its technology was being used against journalists and human rights defenders.
Spyware regulations: “NSO has seemingly bowed to pressure”
Amnesty is supporting current legal action being taken against the Israeli Ministry of Defence, demanding that it revoke NSO Group’s export licence.
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Ingleton added: “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.”
What is the NSO Group?
The NSO Group is a cyber-intelligence firm that says its products help governments prevent terrorism and serious crimes, as well as support search and rescue operations following natural disasters.
However, in May this year, electronic encrypted messaging service Whatsapp said a security breach on its app revealed signs of government surveillance technology created by a private company, which could have targeted human rights groups.
Human rights groups were told by Whatsapp it had reasons to believe the spyware had been developed by NSO.
According to documented research by Amnesty and others, several governments have used NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to target 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.
Shalev Hulio, co-founder and chief executive of NSO, denies that NSO spyware was used in the murder of Khashoggi.