US blacklists Israel’s NSO group, maker of Pegasus spyware

The U.S. Commerce Department added Israel’s NSO Group to its trade blacklist on Wednesday, saying the group sold spyware to foreign governments that used the equipment to target government officials, journalists and others.

The biden administration, in a statement, said the NSO Group and Candiru, another Israeli company, were added to the Entity List “based on evidence that these entities developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that used these tools to maliciously target government officials, journalists, business people, activists, academics, and embassy workers”.

In the past, both the Israeli goups have been accused of selling hacking tools to authoritarian regimes. NSO says it only sells its products to law enforcement and intelligence agencies and takes steps to curb abuse.

According to the US Department of Commerce, these tools have “enabled foreign governments to conduct transnational repression, which is the practice of authoritarian governments targeting dissidents, journalists and activists outside of their sovereign borders to silence dissent.”

Last week, India’s apex court ordered a “thorough inquiry” into allegations of unauthorised surveillance using the Pegasus spyware in India. Ordering the probe, a three-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana made it clear that the government cannot get “a free pass every time the spectre of ‘national security’ is raised.”

The Supreme Court ordered a probe into the Pegasus surveillance scandal by a three-member expert committee. Allegations of snooping using the Pegasus software are about fundamental rights and “could have a chilling effect”, the apex court said.

The Pegasus Project, a collaboration of 80 journalists with the Technical lab of Amnesty International, 17 news organisations, coordinated by Forbidden Stories did an in-depth forensic analysis into the massive data leak of people spied by NSO Group for government clients.

The report uncovered ‘widespread, persistent and ongoing unlawful surveillance and human rights abuses’ using the Israeli company NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. The Wire was the Indian media organisation working with the project.

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