(December 15, 2021 / JNS) Eighteen U.S. lawmakers released a letter on Tuesday urging the U.S. Treasury and State Departments to sanction Israeli spyware firm NSO Group for allegedly helping authoritarian regimes commit human-rights violations.
The letter, which also called for sanctions against three other foreign surveillance companies, was signed by Senate Finance Committee chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and other Democratic lawmakers, reported Reuters.
“These surveillance mercenaries sold their services to authoritarian regimes with long records of human-rights abuses, giving vast spying powers to tyrants,” Wyden told Reuters. “Predictably, those nations used surveillance tools to lock up, torture and murder reporters and human-rights advocates. The Biden administration has the chance to turn off the spigot of American dollars and help put them out of business for good.”
The letter cited a Reuters report claiming that NSO spyware targeted State Department employees in Uganda and asked that Global Magnitsky sanctions—the freezing of bank accounts and banning of travel to the United States—on those companies.
The United States added NSO Group and another Israeli cyber-surveillance firm, Candiru to its blacklist on Nov. 3.
“NSO Group and Candiru were added to the Entity List based on a determination that they developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that used this tool to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics and embassy workers,” said the State Department.
NSO Group came under fire in July for allegations its government clients widely misused its Pegasus spyware against politicians, journalists and critics of repressive regimes.
The spyware’s intended purpose is to track criminals and terrorists, according to the company. It can be used to remotely access e-mails, passwords, contact lists and even a smartphone’s camera, microphone and tracking system, transforming the phone into a surveillance device, according to NSO marketing materials.
NSO Group has denied charges that its clients have misused its product.
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