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Amnesty: Morocco used NSO's spyware to snoop on journalist

June 22, 2020 at 7:42 pm

An employee of a Moroccan startup company pilots a drone equipped with disinfectant liquid, in a street of Harhoura near the capital Rabat on 23 April, 2020 [FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images]

Technology developed by Israeli cybersecurity company NSO Group was used by the Moroccan government to spy on journalist Omar Radi, a critic of Morocco’s human rights record, Amnesty International said on Monday.

The organization found that Radi’s phone was subjected to several attacks using a “sophisticated new technique” that silently installed NSO’s Pegasus spyware.

The attacks occurred over a period when Radi was being repeatedly harassed by the Moroccan authorities, with one attack taking place just days after NSO pledged to stop its products being used in human rights abuses and continued until at least January 2020,

Amnesty said.

If NSO won’t stop its technology from being used in such incidents, “then it should be banned from selling it to governments who are likely to use it for human rights abuses,” said Danna Ingleton, deputy director of Amnesty Tech.

Several messages left with Moroccan government spokesperson Said Amzazi and human rights minister Mustapha Ramid were not immediately returned.

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The findings show that “Moroccan authorities have been using their surveillance technologies to the detriment of privacy rights and this is a blatant human rights violation,” Radi said. “We are afraid spying has become an instrument of governance for authorities.”

An NSO spokesperson said the company has undertaken a human rights policy to comply with United Nations guiding principles and takes any claim of misuse seriously.

“We responded directly to Amnesty International after learning of their allegations … and we shall immediately review the information provided and initiate an investigation if warranted,” the spokesperson said.

NSO said due to state confidentiality it cannot disclose the identities of customers.

Last year Amnesty said two Moroccan human rights activists were hacked with the help of NSO tools.

Pegasus has been linked to political surveillance in Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, according to the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, which researches digital surveillance. NSO has denied wrongdoing.

Facebook’s WhatsApp sued NSO in October after finding evidence that the firm had abused a flaw in the chat program to remotely hijack hundreds of smartphones.

In March, Radi was handed a suspended four-month prison term for a tweet he posted in 2019 criticizing the trial of a group of activists.

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