Coalition of human rights groups joins suit against Israeli firm NSO

NSO Group

Raphael Satter

Reuters  /  December 23, 2020

WASHINGTON – A coalition of human rights groups on Wednesday joined Facebook’s lawsuit against Israeli spyware vendor NSO, alleging that the company “prioritizes profit to the detriment of human rights.”

The organizations – including internet rights group Access Now, London-based Amnesty International, and the Committee to Protect Journalists – filed an amicus or “friend of the court” brief in support of Facebook’s fight against NSO, which the social media giant accuses of having subverted its WhatsApp instant messaging service to hack into the phones of human rights activists and dissidents worldwide.

The brief, filed before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, adds weight to the legal battle between Facebook and NSO, which began in October 2019. On Monday, a group of tech giants including Microsoft, Google, Dell, and Cisco filed an amicus brief that warned that NSO’s hacking tools posed a danger to the safety of users across the internet.

The rights coalition filing the brief on Wednesday includes India’s Internet Freedom Foundation, the Africa-focused Paradigm Initiative, London-based Privacy International, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, and Mexican rights group R3D. Earlier this week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed its own amicus brief alleging that NSO had become “notorious for facilitating human rights abuses.”

NSO is the best known of a bevy of Israeli companies that sell hacking software to government clients. It has long been dogged by allegations of complicity in abusive surveillance.

NSO did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the latest filing but the company has argued that, because it supplies digital break-in tools to police and spy agencies, it should benefit from “sovereign immunity” – a legal doctrine that generally shields foreign governments from lawsuits.

NSO lost that argument in the Northern District of California in July and has appealed to the Ninth Circuit to have the ruling overturned.

Reporting by Raphael Satter; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall