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25 Nov 2020

Aditi Agrawal, Medianama

USA: NSO Group renews attempt to get Whatsapp lawsuit dismissed arguing entitlement to "foreign sovereign immunity"

Photo: Canva

NSO Group renews bid to get WhatsApp lawsuit dismissed, 19 November 2020.

The NSO Group has made a fresh bid in an American appeals court to get WhatsApp’s lawsuit against it dismissed. The controversial cybersecurity firm has argued that it is entitled to “foreign sovereign immunity” as it “exclusively [original emphasis]” acts as an agent of foreign sovereigns. The district court, which had dismissed NSO’s appeal to dismiss WhatsApp’s lawsuit, had said that such immunity only extends to companies incorporated in the US, a ruling that the NSO Group has challenged.

WhatsApp had sued the NSO Group in October 2019 for exploiting a since-then fixed vulnerability in the messaging app that allowed attackers to plant NSO’s Pegasus in users’ phone just by ringing their target’s device. WhatsApp had informed 1,400 users who were affected by this attack...In response, the NSO Group has always maintained, including in responses to MediaNama, that it only markets and sells its products to governments and authorised law enforcement agencies including intelligence agencies.

NSO has filed its appeal to get the lawsuit dismissed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals...and has argued that the Northern District of California, which rejected the firm’s plea to dismiss the suit, did not have the jurisdiction to do so.

Given Pegasus’s “effectiveness”, NSO Group submitted that its export is regulated under Israel’s Defence Export Control Law which authorizes the Israeli Ministry of Defence to grant or deny any licences between NSO and its foreign-sovereign customers...

However, in November 2019, Israel’s security cabinet minister Zeev Elkin today denied any Israeli government involvement in sale of Pegasus by NSO Group, stating that “NSO Group is a private player” and “there is no Israeli government involvement”...