Israeli spyware firm NSO "cannot be counted on": HRW
Human Rights Watch says Israeli spyware NSO failed to reveal abuse and lead to accountability for government clients.
Human Rights Watch considered that Israeli spyware firm NSO Group "cannot be counted on" and has weaknesses in its internal processes, in regard to the investigation of the targeting of Lama Fakih, Middle East, and North Africa director.
On Friday, the human rights organization said that "Despite claims that NSO Group has internal processes to root out misuse of its technology, human rights groups have long documented the failure of those processes to reveal abuse and lead to accountability for unscrupulous government clients."
It is noteworthy that in January 2022, the organization filed a complaint to NSO with supporting evidence that the firm's Pegasus spyware was used to target Fakih.
According to Human Rights Watch, NSO committed to making an “initial assessment” to decide whether an investigation was needed.
"Weaknesses of NSO’s internal processes"
However, on June 27, Chaim Gelfand, NSO’s vice president for compliance claimed that “This issue has been investigated to the best of our ability based on the information provided to us. We have not seen evidence that Ms. Fakih’s number, provided below had been targeted using the Pegasus system by our existing customer’s.”
The human rights organization considered that "Gelfand’s unhelpful response simply highlights the weaknesses of NSO’s internal processes."
Human Rights Watch explained that "One interpretation of NSO’s response could be that a former client targeted Fakih – but the company does not publish a list of government clients that have been terminated."
"Another explanation could be that NSO relied on incomplete information because its investigations depend on client cooperation," it added.
Claims that are impossible to verify
NSO provided conflicting statements on its ability to ensure clients are not abusing its technology, the organization indicated.
In June 2020, NSO claimed that it “monitors and reviews the due diligence of all entities that use its technologies both on an ongoing and periodic basis.” However, the Israeli firm said that its assessment “depends on cooperation of the user,” and without that, it is “limited to reviewing available metadata, which fails to provide detailed insights and does not provide sufficient data to allow one to determine if there was misuse.”
Gelfand, at a recent hearing of a European Parliament Committee of Inquiry on Pegasus, claimed that if a customer does not cooperate with an investigation, the Israeli firm will suspend the client: "a claim that is impossible to verify. When it terminates a contract, NSO loses access to the data needed for investigations, he said, which would prevent it from conducting meaningful investigations," the human rights organization pointed out.
"The company cannot be counted on"
"NSO’s empty response following Human Rights Watch’s full cooperation underscores that the company cannot be counted on, and may not even have the ability, to investigate itself," Human Rights Watch underlined.
It is noteworthy that NSO Group has been embroiled in a seemingly never-ending spate of extremely prominent controversies. Revelations that it sells its powerful Pegasus spyware to authoritarian regimes, that its products have been used to spy on journalists, activists, politicians, and even potentially world leaders, and accusations that it played a role in Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi's death have put it at the center of international criticism.
Hungary, India, Spain, Mexico, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia are some countries listed in a report last July that details how the Israeli spyware was used by governments to spy on journalists and critics.
In addition, Apple is suing NSO Group in a US federal court, saying the Israeli firm's spyware was used to attack iPhone users worldwide.
Last year, the US blacklisted the firm, stating that it had sold software that had been used to "maliciously attack" government officials, journalists, businesses, activists, academics, and diplomatic personnel.