Pegasus scandal: Israeli government distances itself from the NSO group on the blacklist

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Israel’s Foreign Secretary Yair Lapid on Saturday distanced the government from the NSO Group, a company that was blacklisted this week by the United States for allegedly misusing its phone-hacking spyware.

A survey of 17 media organizations published in July found that NSO’s Pegasus software was targeting smartphones owned by journalists, human rights activists and government officials in several countries.

The company ships its products overseas under license from the Israeli Defense Ministry, which launched its own investigation into the company’s practices after it became aware of alleged software misuse.

No results have been announced and Israel has so far given no indication that it is considering cutting back on NSO exports.

“NSO is a private company, it is not a government project and therefore, even if it is named, it has nothing to do with the policies of the Israeli government,” Lapid said at a press conference in Jerusalem. “I don’t think there is any other country in the world that has such strict cyber warfare rules and imposes these rules more than Israel, and we will continue to do so.”

His comments are the first to be made public by a senior Israeli minister since the US Department of Commerce announced the blacklist on Wednesday.

In the past, the NSO Group has been accused of selling hacking tools to authoritarian regimes. NSO says it only sells its products to law enforcement and intelligence agencies and is taking steps to curb abuse.

Inclusion on the US list for activities that conflict with US national security or US foreign policy interests means that exports of US counterparts to them are restricted.

NSO said it was “upset” by the US decision and has terminated contracts with government agencies that have misused products it advertises as legitimate tools to aid crime-fighting agencies in fighting terrorism.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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