Mexico: Govt. allegedly uses NSO Group's anti-terrorist software to spy on journalists, activists and human rights defenders

A report from civil society organizations documented that journalists, anticorruption activists and human rights defenders denouncing forced disappearances and sexual abuses were spied - allegedly by the Mexican government- using the Pegasus software from NSO Group. The company argues that the software should only be used against drug cartels or terrorist groups.

4th July 2017: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited NSO Group to respond; the company responded on 9th August 2017

23rd July 2017: Reuters and others reported that Blackstone Group and ClearSky are looking to invest in NSO Group.

3rd August 2017: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Blackstone and ClearSky to make a public statement stating how and to what extent they considering human rights in any potential investment in NSO Group. The companies did not respond. The Resource Centre also invited NSO Group's current owner, Francisco Partners, to respond to concerns around NSO Group's activities. It referred questions to NSO Group. 

9th August 2017: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre reached out to 9 pension funds believed to be investing in Blackstone Group to ask them to make a public statement on the deal. Two pension funds have responded so far. California Public Employees' Retirement System and Arizona State Retirement System indicated that they had spoken to Blackstone Group about this investment (their statements are below).

16th August 2017: Blackstone reportedly ends talks to buy NSO Group stake following protests.

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Article
24 January 2019

Mexican govt. accused of digital surveillance of journalists, activists & human rights defenders

Author: Giovanna Salazar & Alexis Faber, Global Voices (Netherlands)

"Under Peña Nieto, Mexican journalists endured threats, killings - and digital surveillance, say researchers", 17 January 2019

... Just one day after Valdez's death, two of his colleagues received mobile phone messages infected with the surveillance software Pegasus... Javier Valdez was a dedicated journalist who, among other things, covered stories about corruption, impunity and organized crime for the independent media outlet Ríodoce... According to a research report... Combined with other cases...a total of 28 cases of attempted infection with Pegasus, against various journalists, activists, and human rights defenders in the country... One of the most noteworthy conclusions of the report was that there seemed to be a common attacker in all cases, given the methods of infection and the use of the same infrastructure. Moreover, it was noted that the software was used in situations affecting Peña Nieto's outgoing administration. Pegasus is a sophisticated tool sold exclusively to government agencies... The technology was acquired by the Mexican government in 2014 and 2015 for the alleged purpose of fighting organized crime. The Mexican government has a terrible record when it comes to human rights and the circumstances facing journalism in the country are especially grave. [Refers to NSO Group.]

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Article
16 August 2017

Blackstone ends talks for NSO Group stake that prompted protest: sources

Author: Jim Finkle, Reuters

…Blackstone Group (BX.N) has pulled out of discussions to buy part of Israeli mobile surveillance software maker NSO Group, according to people familiar with the talks that had been criticized by digital privacy activists.Two people familiar with the discussions told Reuters on Tuesday that the talks had ended without Blackstone and NSO reaching an agreement…NSO spokesperson Zamir Dahbash said the company was not currently in talks with any potential investors. Dahbash declined to discuss the talks with Blackstone or say why they had failed…

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Company response
15 August 2017

Response from Arizona State Retirement System

Author: Arizona State Retirement System

We checked with Blackstone, and their representative told us they are not pursuing this transaction.

Company response
14 August 2017

Response from California Public Employees' Retirement System

Thank you very much for your message on August 9, 2017.  We at CalPERS are always appreciative of the opportunity to discuss  important human rights issues.

CalPERS’ Governance & Sustainability Principles make specific reference to our support  for universal human rights (in section 16) where we state that

"Boards should be accountable for companies to develop and implement company policies, procedures, training and internal reporting structures to ensure commitment to (inter alia)…..Universal Human Rights: (Specifically to) express our support for universal human rights, particularly, those of our employees, the communities with which we operate, and parties with whom we do business.”

As commingled fund investors with the Blackstone Group, CalPERS is not in possession of confirmatory information from the Blackstone Group as to whether they are or are not engaged in discussions to purchase a portion of NSO Group.  We are able to tell you affirmatively that based on your correspondence directed to us on August 9, 2017, we engaged the Blackstone Group to remind them of the importance we at CalPERS attach to the above Governance & Sustainability Principles, as well as reminded them that our investment beliefs incorporate responsible human capital management practices.  This message was received and acknowledged in a very positive manner by the Blackstone Group.

We appreciate you bringing this issue to our attention and encourage you to continue to engage the Blackstone Group directly with your concerns regarding the NSO Group.

We thank you for the opportunity to respond to your concerns.

Company response
9 August 2017

NSO Group responded

NSO Group was founded to give select governments the national security tools they need to protect their citizens, as terrorists and criminal networks use increasingly sophisticated communications technology. The product is contracted for the sole and exclusive use of investigating and preventing terrorism and crime, and it has saved lives by providing critical early warning of multiple terrorist attacks, reuniting abducted children with their families, and catching narco-criminals.  Any other use is a violation of the terms our customers agree to be bound by, and the commitments they have made. It is also contrary to the values of our company. NSO Group is committed to the ethical use of our product; we are deeply concerned by any alleged misuse of it, and immediately investigate any such allegations.

In circumstances where there is an official investigation into the misuse of our product, it is our policy to cease commercial sales and suspend existing activities pending the outcome of that investigation.

Article
3 August 2017

Digital Rights group calls on Blackstone to drop plans to invest in NSO Group

Author: Access Now

Today Access Now called on The Blackstone Group to halt its pending deal with NSO Group, a purveyor of surveillance technology that has been used by governments to spy on activists around the world... Access Now is circulating a public petition calling for signatures, which states: “We urge the Blackstone Group to immediately drop plans to invest in NSO Group and its surveillance technology and to publicly commit to a plan to ensure its current and future investments will not facilitate human rights violations.”...

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Company non-response
3 August 2017

Francisco Partners did not respond

Article
3 August 2017

University of Toronto's Citizen Lab quiz Blackstone Group on human rights concerns around potential investment in NSO Group

Author: Citizen Lab

Today Citizen Lab sent an open letter to Blackstone Group LP concerning recent reports that Blackstone is in talks to acquire a $400 million, 40% stake in NSO Group Technologies... We sent this letter in order to draw the attention of Blackstone Group to these these concerns, which we outline in detail. We also ask specific questions about Blackstone’s due diligence process for acquiring companies that sell spyware, and how they plan to address potential risks to investors...

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Company non-response
2 August 2017

Blackstone Group did not respond

Company non-response
2 August 2017

ClearSky did not respond