The NSO Group, which has been embroiled into the controversy related to the recent WhatsApp hack, has said that it will do whatever necessary to ensure there is no abuse of its flagship spyware as well as make sure the company’s programme does not undermine human rights. The company also said that it would probe any “credible allegations of misuse” of its technology which “is solely operated by intelligence and law enforcement agencies”.
The statement comes after London-based human rights advocacy organisation, Amnesty International sought to revoke the export licence for NSO in the wake of the recent revelation about WhatsApp breach. NSO is on a sticky wicket after Facebook said that it believed the spyware used to attack several human rights campaigners was developed by NSO. According to a Reuters report, a second person familiar with the matter also identified spyware from NSO, whose biggest investor is Novalpina Capital.
In a letter dated May 15, Novalpina told Amnesty that it was “determined to do whatever is necessary to ensure that NSO technology is used for the purpose for which it is intended – the prevention of harm to fundamental human rights arising from terrorism and serious crime – and not abused in a manner that undermines other equally fundamental human rights”.
“Lawful and responsible deployment of NSO technology by intelligence and law enforcement agencies is essential to meet the challenges of what would otherwise be untraceable crime, terrorism, human trafficking and drug cartels,” said the letter, referring to an affidavit that was submitted by Amnesty to the Israeli government earlier this week seeking the revocation of NSO’s export licence.
The situation came to light after a report surfaced claiming that NSO’s Pegasus programme, which can turn on a phone’s microphone and camera, and collect location data, was used to unsuccessfully compromise the phone of a UK-based human rights lawyer who helped a Saudi dissident in Canada, and sued NSO in Israel. It was reported that the people behind the whole situation leveraged a vulnerability in the WhatsApp’s calling feature that allowed them to inject spyware on people phones.
It is also alleged that the attack was launched by a Middle Eastern country to allegedly suppress the criticism of its human rights practices. NSO has Middle Eastern and Western intelligence agencies as its customers. The report added that in the past, human rights campaigners in the Middle East have received text messages over WhatsApp that contained links that would download Pegasus to their phones.