WhatsApp to pursue lawsuit against Israeli NSO Group: US Supreme Court
The verdict by the Supreme Court comes as Washington becomes increasingly concerned about the Israeli spyware industry.
The US Supreme Court rejected a petition from NSO Group, an Israeli spyware firm, to dismiss a complaint that the company used the WhatsApp platform to eavesdrop on 1,400 users in 2019.
The verdict affirms a prior California federal court judgment that rejected NSO Group's claims that it qualified for foreign sovereign immunity since “it was investigating terrorist activity on behalf of a foreign government at the time it deployed the software."
NSO Group petitioned the Supreme Court in April, following the rejection of an appeal in the lawsuit made by Meta, WhatsApp's parent company, by a federal judge in California.
The Supreme Court had earlier requested that the Biden administration weigh in on the matter, and in November, the Justice Department filed an amicus brief urging the court to refuse the petition.
In 2021, the administration put NSO Group and another Israeli spyware company, Candiru, on its list of entities that constitute a national security concern.
The verdict by the Supreme Court comes as Washington becomes increasingly concerned about the Israeli spyware industry. President Biden is anticipated to sign an executive order restricting federal agencies' use of spyware later this year, and members of Congress have also offered legislative alternatives.
In a statement to CyberScoop, WhatsApp Spokesperson Carl Woog said, “We’re grateful to see the Supreme Court rejected NSO’s baseless petition.”
“NSO’s spyware has enabled cyberattacks targeting human rights activists, journalists, and government officials. We firmly believe that their operations violate US law and they must be held to account for their unlawful operations,” he added.
The court's judgment could help additional lawsuits against the surveillance firm get traction. In December, the Knight Institute sued NSO Group in federal court in the United States on behalf of members of the Salvadoran news source El Faro. According to the lawsuit, the NSO Group violated US hacking laws by using spyware on journalists.
“We’re pleased that the Supreme Court rejected NSO Group’s petition. Today’s decision clears the path for lawsuits brought by the tech companies, as well as for suits brought by journalists and human rights advocates who have been victims of spyware attacks,” Carrie DeCell, senior staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, stressed in a statement.
“The use of spyware to surveil and intimidate journalists poses one of the most urgent threats to press freedom and democracy today,” DeCell added.
It is worth noting that the Israeli-led spyware industry has been embroiled in a seemingly never-ending spate of extremely prominent controversies. Revelations that it sells its 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 murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi's death have put it at the center of international criticism.
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