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US lawmakers call for sanctions against spyware firms including Israel's NSO Group

December 15, 2021 at 3:42 pm

The logo of Israeli cyber company NSO Group on November 11, 2021 in Sapir, Israel [Amir Levy/Getty Images]

US Democratic lawmakers are calling for sanctions against four surveillance companies, including Israeli military spyware firm NSO Group and the United Arab Emirates cybersecurity company DarkMatter, that they say helped authoritarian governments commit human rights abuses.

In a letter to the US Treasury Department and the State Department, the legislators also ask for sanctions on top executives at France-based Nexa Technologies and Germany’s Trovicor.

Nexa is already the subject of criminal investigations into the alleged sale of surveillance technologies used in rights violations in Egypt and Libya, Reuters reports.

READ: Israel’s spyware hacks phones of US officials

The legislators asked for sanctions, under the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the US to punish those who are accused of enabling human rights abuses by freezing bank accounts and banning travel to the US.

Israel's Pegasus spyware global weapon to silence critics? - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Israel’s Pegasus spyware global weapon to silence critics? – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

According to the letter, sent by 18 Senate and House members, including Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, the named companies indirectly aided the “disappearance, torture and murder of human rights activists and journalists.”

“To meaningfully punish them and send a clear signal to the surveillance technology industry, the US government should deploy financial sanctions,” they wrote.

The legislators added that the spyware industry relies on US investment and banks.

“These surveillance mercenaries sold their services to authoritarian regimes with long records of human rights abuses, giving vast spying powers to tyrants,” Wyden told Reuters.

“Predictably, those nations used surveillance tools to lock up, torture, and murder reporters and human-rights advocates. The Biden administration has the chance to turn off the spigot of American dollars and help put them out of business for good.”

This comes after a decision by the US to place the NSO Group on its trade blacklist, which has pushed it into debt estimated at $500 millionAnadolu Agency reports.

Moreover, Apple filed a lawsuit against the Israeli firm and its parent company OSY Technologies last month, in an effort to stop the spyware company from targeting any Apple devices. In its complaint filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, Apple said NSO’s tools were used in “concerted efforts in 2021 to target and attack Apple customers.”

The company added that “US citizens have been under surveillance by NSO’s spyware on mobile devices that can and do cross international borders.”

READ: Israel’s Pegasus spyware could be shut down or sold to US