US legislators call for sanctions against Israel’s NSO: Report

Group says total of four companies should be punished for helping governments commit human rights abuses.

US legislators say the Israeli NSO Group should be sanctioned for helping governments commit human rights abuses [File: Sebastian Scheiner/The Associated Press]

A group of United States legislators has called on the Treasury Department and the State Department to sanction four companies – including the Israeli 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 sent late on Tuesday and seen by the Reuters news agency, the legislators ask for sanctions on top executives at NSO, DarkMatter and European online bulk surveillance companies Nexa Technologies and Trovicor.

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.

DarkMatter could not be reached for comment. The other three companies did not immediately reply to requests from Reuters.

The letter, which was signed by the Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and 16 other Democratic legislators, also cited a recent Reuters article this month showing that NSO spyware was used against the State Department employees in Uganda.

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

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

The letter says the companies facilitated the “disappearance, torture and murder of human rights activists and journalists”.

Surveillance firms have drawn increasing scrutiny from Washington as a barrage of media reports has tied them to human rights abuses.

“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.”

In November, the Commerce Department put NSO on the so-called Entity List, prohibiting US suppliers from selling software or services to the Israeli spyware maker without getting special permission.

A number of legal challenges also threaten the industry. Last week, a prominent Saudi activist and the non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation sued DarkMatter, alleging the group hacked into her phone.

Apple sued NSO Group in November, saying that it violated US laws by breaking into the software installed on iPhones.

Source: Reuters