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Pegasus: Israel to review allegations of misuse and licensing process

NSO's chief executive, Shalev Hulio, welcomed the move, telling Army Radio that he would “be very pleased if there were an investigation so that we’d be able to clear our name”

PTI PTI
Jerusalem Published on: July 23, 2021 13:10 IST
Pegasus spyware
Image Source : FREEPIK

Politicians, rights activists and journalists were among those targeted with phone spyware sold to various governments by the Israeli firm, according to an international media consortium

Amid the Pegasus snooping case backlash, Israel has established a committee to review the allegations of misuse of the NSO group's surveillance software and hinted at a possible "review of the whole matter of giving licences". The alleged use of the Pegasus software to spy on journalists, human rights defenders, politicians and others in a number of countries including India triggered concerns over issues relating to privacy.

Politicians, rights activists and journalists were among those targeted with phone spyware sold to various governments by the Israeli firm, according to an international media consortium. “The defence establishment appointed a review committee made up of a number of bodies," lawmaker Ram Ben-Barak, the head of Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, told Army Radio on Thursday. “When they finish their review, we’ll demand to see the results and assess whether we need to make corrections," Ben-Barak, who earlier was the former deputy head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, added. Israel’s priority was “to review this whole matter of giving licenses”, he stressed.

NSO's chief executive, Shalev Hulio, welcomed the move, telling Army Radio that he would “be very pleased if there were an investigation so that we’d be able to clear our name”. Hulio claimed that there was an effort “to smear the whole Israeli cyber industry".

Ben-Barak noted that Pegasus had helped “expose many terror cells”, but “if it was misused or sold to irresponsible bodies, this is something we need to check". The NSO head also told Army Radio that his company could not disclose the details of its contracts due to “issues of confidentiality,” but said, "he would offer full transparency to any government seeking more details".

“Let any state entity come along — any official from any state — and I’ll be prepared to open everything up to them, for them to enter, to dig around from top to bottom,” Hulio asserted. NSO in a written response to PTI in October 2019, when the issue first came to the limelight with reports of misuse in India, had said that it considers "any other use of our products than to prevent serious crime and terrorism a misuse, which is contractually prohibited".

"We take action if we detect any misuse. This technology is rooted in the protection of human rights – including the right to life, security and bodily integrity – and that’s why we have sought alignment with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, to make sure our products are respecting all fundamental human rights”, it said which is a stand its executives still maintain.

Without confirming, or denying, if the software was sold to India, the company had said that its "products are licensed to government intelligence and law enforcement agencies for the sole purpose of preventing and investigating terror and serious crime".

"To protect the ongoing public safety missions of its agency customers and given significant legal and contractual constraints, NSO Group is not able to disclose who is or is not a client or discuss specific uses of its technology," the written statement had said.

Israel's defence ministry in a statement earlier on Monday threatened that if it finds that the NSO Group violated the terms of its export licenses, it will “take appropriate action”.

The ministry said that Israel only permits companies to export cybersecurity products to “government figures only for legal purposes and to prevent and investigate crimes and to combat terrorism. And this is dependent upon commitments regarding the end use/user from the purchasing country, which must abide by these conditions”.

READ MORE | My phone also tapped, Amit Shah must step down: Rahul Gandhi on Pegasus spying row 

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