Amnesty backs legal action against Israeli firm NSO Group over spyware use against Human Rights Defenders

On 13 May 2019, Amnesty International and New York University announced they were backing legal action against the Israeli Ministry of Defence, demanding that it revoke the export license of NSO Group, an Israeli company whose spyware products have allegedly been used in attacks on human rights defenders.

Research has documented the use of NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to target a wide range of civil society, including, allegedly, murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. NSO Group is currently also facing allegations that its spyware was used to spy on activists enabled by WhatsApp security flaws - for more information see here. NSO Group has denied the accounts that its spyware platform has been misused to target human rights defenders. 

In Luxembourg, where an initiative for mandatory human rights due diligence is calling on the government to adopt a law requiring companies to monitor and respect human rights throughout their value chain, two parliamentary questions were recently asked on the possible involvement of a Luxembourg subsidiary of NSO in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Following this, the initiative released a press release (in French, summary translation available in English below) reissuing their call for a mandatory due diligence law, which could help prevent attacks against human rights defenders and journalists.

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Article
13 May 2019

Israel: Amnesty Intl. & New York University support legal action to revoke NSO Group's export license over use of spyware products against human rights defenders

Author: Amnesty International

"Israel: Amnesty International engages in legal action to stop NSO Group’s web of surveillance", 13 May 2019

Amnesty International is supporting a legal action to take the Israeli Ministry of Defence (MoD) to court, to demand that it revokes the export license of NSO Group, an Israeli company whose spyware products have been used in chilling attacks on human rights defenders around the world.

In a petition to be filed tomorrow at the District Court of Tel Aviv, approximately 50 members and supporters of Amnesty International Israel and others from the human rights community set out how the MoD has put human rights at risk by allowing NSO to continue exporting its products...

“NSO Group sells its products to governments who are known for outrageous human rights abuses, giving them the tools to track activists and critics...” said Danna Ingleton, Deputy Director of Amnesty Tech...

The legal action is supported by Amnesty International as part of a joint project with New York University (NYU) School of Law’s Bernstein Institute for Human Rights and Global Justice Clinic, which seeks justice for human rights defenders targeted with malicious software...

NSO Group has repeatedly denied, but not credibly addressed, the accounts that its Pegasus spyware platform has been misused to target human rights defenders. Nor has it accepted responsibility or provided remedies for the multiple reported instances of misuse of its surveillance technologies. The company has failed to disclose its due diligence process, except for veiled references to the existence of an ethics committee. It remains unclear what factors are taken into consideration before the company sells an inherently invasive product like Pegasus...

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Article
13 May 2019

Luxembourg: Initiative for mandatory due diligence calls for law to help prevent attacks against human rights defenders & journalists

Author: Luxembourg coalition for a duty of vigilance law

[English summary, full press release available in French here]

Recently, two parliamentary questions were asked (by a Luxembourg MP) on the possible involvement in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi of a Luxembourg subsidiary of the Israeli company NSO.

According to information available on the website of the NSO group, its headquarters are located in Luxembourg. In February 2019, the executives of the NSO group announced that they had acquired the company with the support of the investment fund Novalpina Capital, which also has companies domiciled in Luxembourg.

Research has documented the use of the NSO group's Pegasus spyware to target a wide range of civil society, including at least 24 human rights defenders, journalists and parliamentarians in Mexico, an Amnesty International employee, prominent human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor, and reportedly Jamal Khashoggi.

According to the UNGPs on Business and Human Rights, states have an obligation to protect when third parties, including companies, violate human rights in their territory and/or under their jurisdiction. This requires the adoption of appropriate measures to prevent such violations, and when they occur, to investigate them.

The Initiative for a duty of vigilance in Luxembourg calls on the government to adopt a human rights due diligence law that would require companies to monitor respect for human rights and the environment throughout their value chain. The adoption of such law could help to prevent attacks against human rights defenders and journalists.