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US Court rejects Israel spyware's bid for immunity in WhatsApp lawsuit

January 10, 2023 at 2:49 pm

A view of the logo of WhatsApp application on a smartphone is displayed on October 25, 2022 [Doğukan Keskinkılıç/Anadolu Agency]

The US Supreme Court, yesterday, rejected Israel’s blacklisted spyware company’s attempt to dismiss a high-profile lawsuit filed by the WhatsApp messaging service.

NSO Group filed a petition in April last year arguing that it could not be sued, as it was acting on behalf of a foreign government. However, the Justices turned away NSO’s appeal over a lower court’s decision that the lawsuit could move forward.

​​Meta, the parent company of both WhatsApp and Facebook, in a statement welcomed the court’s move to turn away NSO’s “baseless” appeal.

“NSO’s spyware has enabled cyber-attacks targeting human rights activists, journalists and government officials,” Meta said. “We firmly believe that their operations violate US law and they must be held to account for their unlawful operations.”

The administration of US President Joe Biden had previously recommended that the Court turn away the appeal, with the Department of Justice arguing that “NSO plainly is not entitled to immunity here”.

READ: Israel’s blacklisted NSO Group seeking comeback

NSO has been haemorrhaging losses since Biden placed the spyware company on a trade blacklist. WhatsApp says at least 100 of the users connected to its lawsuit were government officials, journalists, business people, activists, academics and embassy workers.

NSO has been involved in numerous scandals in recent years and has faced a deluge of international criticism over reports that its software has been used to target political dissidents, activists and journalists around the world. The company is also facing another lawsuit from Apple, which described them as “amoral 21st century mercenaries”.

“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,” said Carrie DeCell, a senior staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute who is representing journalists in a separate lawsuit against NSO Group.