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Rights Groups To NSO: Actions Speak Louder Than Words In Human Rights Compliance

Access Now is calling out claims by NSO Group of compliance to human rights standards through an open letter published today, 27 April, 2021, in coalition with Amnesty International, Committee to Protect Journalists, and other human rights groups. The public statement comes in response to NSO Group’s correspondence with Professor Ronald J. Deibert, Director of The Citizen Lab. The coalition rejects NSO’s claims of their unverified compliance with human rights standards, and highlights how the vast majority of NSO’s commitments remain unfulfilled.

The correspondence began after Citizen Lab’s December 20, 2020 report, revealing that in July and August 2020 government operatives, including from Saudi Arabia and UAE, used NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to hack 36 personal phones belonging to journalists, producers, anchors, and executives at Al Jazeera, and the phone of an Al Araby TV journalist. In response, NSO requested personal information of the alleged victims. When Citizen Lab refused, citing its research ethics protocols and NSO’s demonstrated lack of commitment to undertake a thorough and transparent investigation, NSO reiterated its multiple, yet unsupported, claims of human rights compliance.

“NSO Groups’ corporate social responsibility pledges are pure theatre,” said Ron Deibert, Director of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto. “The spectacle might be a mildly entertaining farce were it not for the very real and gruesome way in which its spyware is abused by the world’s worst autocrats. NSO’s irresponsible actions have proven their words are nothing more than hand-waving distractions from the harsh reality of the unregulated marketplace in which they, and their owners, thrive and profit.”

This is not the first time human rights organizations have written to NSO and its investors. Since 2019, Novalpina Capital and NSO Group have exchanged a series of letters and communications with Professor Deibert, human rights groups, and the former Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye.

“While NSO’s empty claims of human rights compliance are nothing but smoke and mirrors, the abuses facilitated with its spyware technology keep proliferating,” said Natalia Krapiva, Tech-Legal Counsel at Access Now. “NSO’s actions speak louder than its words.”

NSO Group is facing lawsuits in multiple jurisdictions around the world, including in relation to the targeting of an associate of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and 1,400 WhatsApp users. Access Now and a coalition of human rights organizations, including several signatories of today’s letter, have filed an amicus brief in WhatsApp’s case against NSO Group in U.S. federal court.

Read the full open letter from Access Now, Amnesty International, Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, R3D, Paradigm Initiative, Privacy International, and Reporters Without Borders.

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