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15 Dec, 2021 09:08

Dems want Pegasus & other spyware makers punished – media

Dems want Pegasus & other spyware makers punished – media

A group of US lawmakers want to put sanctions on leading spyware companies, including Israel’s embattled NSO Group, the producer of the hacking kit Pegasus, Reuters has reported.

Other targets for potential US sanctions include the United Arab Emirates spyware maker DarkMatter, and European firms Nexa Technologies and Trovicor, which also offer clients electronic surveillance services, the news agency said.

A group of 18 Democrat legislators, including Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, have sent a letter to the Treasury Department and State Department, asking to initiate sanctions against the listed companies. Reuters read the letter and talked to some of its sponsors.

The proposed sanctions would be put in place under the so-called 2016 Global Magnitsky Act, a legal framework which authorizes the US government to punish parties anywhere in the world accused of human rights violations. The punishments include freezing of assets and travel restrictions. The signatories said by cutting them off from US investments and financial services, the sanctions would “send a clear signal to the surveillance technology industry” about better vetting their clients.

“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,” he added. “The Biden administration has the chance to turn off the spigot of American dollars and help put them out of business for good.”

Pegasus maker NSO Group is already targeted by US restrictions. In November, it was added to the so-called Entity List, and now requires a special permission to acquire supplies or services from US providers. The Israeli firm is reportedly on the brink of being shut down completely amid a number of scandals and lawsuits surrounding its global hack-for-hire business.

DarkMatter was sued last week by the privacy advocacy Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) on behalf of Saudi human rights activist Loujain AlHathloul. The lawsuit accuses the firm and three of its former executives, who are former US intelligence operatives, of illegally hacking AlHathloul’s iPhone. The surveillance program called Project Raven was first exposed by Reuters in 2019.

Nexa Technologies, formerly known as Amesys, stands accused of supplying surveillance technology to Libya under Muammar Gaddafi and Egypt under Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. It was allegedly used to spy on and persecute dissidents and critics of the respective governments. In June, four executives were indicted in France with complicity in torture and forced disappearances.

Trovicor, a divested unit of German-Finish venture Nokia Siemens Networks, was accused of doing similarly tainted business with the governments of Bahrain, Egypt, Syria, Iran, and Yemen, among others.