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Israel army chief censor in talks to join notorious spyware firm NSO

An Israeli woman uses her iPhone in front of the building housing the Israeli NSO group, on 28 August 2016, in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv. [JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images]
An Israeli woman uses her iPhone in front of the building housing the Israeli NSO group, on 28 August 2016, in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv. [JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images]

The Israeli military chief censor is in talks to join notorious Israeli cyber surveillance company NSO Group, which has been embroiled in a number of scandals over the use of its software to target human rights activists and political dissidents.

According to Globes, Brigadier General Ariella Ben Avraham is “negotiating” to join NSO Group as soon as possible; currently scheduled to be discharged from the military in June, Ben Avraham has “asked to bring her release forward”. The role “will apparently focus on regulation and media.”

Founded in 2010, NSO “has developed a range of cyber intelligence products”, reported Globes, with the company’s lead product, Pegasus, “described as a surveillance tool, and the company says that it is devised to help governments and espionage organizations prevent terrorist acts”.

However, as Globes noted, NSO Group has been embroiled in a number of scandals where their “software has allegedly been used to spy on journalists and opponents of unsavoury regimes”.

READ: Israel tech ‘facilitating press freedom abuses around the world’

Just last month, the Guardian revealed that the mobile phones of at least two dozen Pakistani government officials were allegedly targeted in 2019 with technology owned by NSO Group.

Last October, Facebook – as the owner of WhatsApp – filed a lawsuit against NGO, accusing the company of “unauthorised access and abuse” of its services.

The lawsuit claimed intended targets included “attorneys, journalists, human rights activists, political dissidents, diplomats, and other senior foreign government officials.”

Globes reported that a Tel Aviv court is currently “hearing a lawsuit against NSO seeking to find the company liable for spying on opponents of the regime in Saudi Arabia.”

“The court dismissed NSO’s petition to dismiss the claim,” the report added, and also dismissed NSO’s request “to bar publication of the legal proceedings against it.”

The court will thus hear “the question of the company’s responsibility for the use of its products.”

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