Amnesty International Seeks Revocation of Israeli Spyware’s Export License

(Bloomberg) -- Amnesty International says an Israeli cyber company’s spyware has been turned against its staff, and it’s trying to force the Israeli Defense Ministry to revoke the export license.

The U.K.-based human rights group said it’s consulting with lawyers to see if it has legal recourse. NSO Group said the organization doesn’t know how the company’s products work.

“As the Israeli Ministry of Defense refused our request to revoke the export license, it is clear that we now need to take additional legal steps to expose the truth and seek accountability for the attack against us,” Amnesty said in a statement Wednesday.

In the alleged attack in June, an Amnesty staff member received a suspicious WhatsApp message in Arabic giving details about a supposed protest outside the Saudi embassy in Washington, the group said. The message, it said, included a link that, if activated, would have installed NSO Group’s Pegasus surveillance tool.

The domain link in the message belonged to an infrastructure of more than 600 websites that have been previously connected to NSO, Amnesty said. The message was sent in the midst of the group’s campaign to release six Saudi women’s rights activists, and Amnesty said a rights worker outside the organization received a similar message.

NSO said the rights group has no understanding “of the rigorous ethical and regulatory standards we abide by.” If the company suspects misuse of its products, “NSO reserves the right to suspend or even terminate a contract,” it said.

Snowden Assailed

The company’s conduct has come under fire before. Fugitive whistle-blower Edward Snowden said earlier this month that NSO may have helped Saudi Arabia track and kill government critic Jamal Khashoggi. Israel’s Haaretz daily reported on Sunday that NSO offered the kingdom its technology a few months before Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began a crackdown.

NSO has rejected the criticism of its operations and denied the Haaretz report.

Israel’s Defense Ministry, without elaborating, said it issues licenses in consultation with the Foreign Ministry and other government offices in accordance with the law and specific standards.

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