Amid backlash over the Pegasus surveillance case, Israel established a committee to review allegations of misuse of NSO surveillance software and hinted at a possible “review of the entire licensing issue.” The alleged use of Pegasus software to spy on journalists, human rights defenders, politicians and others in a number of countries, including India, has raised concerns over privacy issues.
According to an international media consortium, politicians, human rights activists and journalists have been victims of telephone spyware sold to various governments by an Israeli firm. “The Defense Department has appointed a multi-body review committee,” MP Ram Ben-Barak, head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told Army Radio on Thursday. “When they finish their review, we will demand to see the results and assess whether we need to make corrections,” added Ben-Barak, formerly deputy head of the Israeli spy agency Mossad. He stressed that Israel’s priority was “to consider the whole issue of licensing.”
NSO chief executive Shalev Julio welcomed the move, telling Army Radio that he “would be very happy if there was an investigation so we can clear our name.” Julio claimed there was an attempt to “vilify the entire Israeli cyber industry.”
Ben-Barak noted that Pegasus helped “expose many terrorist cells,” but “if it has been misused or sold to irresponsible authorities, this is something we need to check.” The head of the FNL also told Army Radio that his company could not disclose the details of his contracts due to “confidentiality issues,” but said that “he would offer full transparency to any government seeking more detailed information.”
“Let any government agency come – any official from any state – and I will be ready to open everything that is possible for them so that they can go in, dig from top to bottom,” Julio said. In its written response to PTI in October 2019, when this matter first brought attention to reports of misuse in India, the NSO stated that it considers “any use of our products other than preventing serious crime and terrorism as misuse, which is contracted forbidden “.
“We take action if we find any misuse. This technology is based on the protection of human rights, including the right to life, safety and physical integrity – and therefore we have strived to align it with the UN Business and Human Rights Guidelines to ensure that all basic human rights are respected in our products. ” – the statement says, and its leaders still adhere to this position.
Without confirming or denying whether the software was sold to India, the company stated that its “products are licensed for government intelligence and law enforcement for the sole purpose of preventing and investigating terror and serious crime.”
“To protect the current public safety mission of its agency’s clients and given significant legal and contractual restrictions, NSO Group cannot disclose who is or is not a client, or discuss specific uses of its technology,” it said in a written statement.
Israel’s Defense Ministry, in a statement earlier Monday, threatened that if it finds that NSO Group has violated the terms of its export licenses, it will “take appropriate action.”
The ministry said Israel allows companies to export cybersecurity products “to government officials for lawful purposes only, and for the prevention and investigation of crime and the fight against terrorism.” And it depends on the end-use / user commitment in the buying country that must comply with these conditions. “