US puts smartphone spyware company NSO on its entity list


NSO Group’s Pegasus software is accused of enabling phone hacking by certain regimes, so the US has decided to try to drive it out of business.

For the past few years the US entity list has been mainly used to cripple Chinese companies, most prominently Huawei, in the name of national security. Its remit is now apparently being expanded to companies originating from other countries, even close allies. Israeli firm NSO Group is suspected of facilitating state phone hacking, which seems to be reason enough for it to be put on the list.

“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,” says the US government announcement.

“NSO Group is dismayed by the decision given that our technologies support US national security interests and policies by preventing terrorism and crime, and thus we will advocate for this decision to be reversed,” said the resulting NSO Group statement.

“We look forward to presenting the full information regarding how we have the world’s most rigorous compliance and human rights programs that are based the American values we deeply share, which already resulted in multiple terminations of contacts with government agencies that misused our products.”

Of course due process must be followed, but that doesn’t mean it will. The entity list is a unilateral tool of US government that doesn’t seem to require any judicial support. In the court of public opinion, however, this is apparently an open-and-shut case, as the tweets below indicate.

While he hadn’t tweeted on the matter at the time of writing, state-surveillance whistle blower Edward Snowden is presumably pleased about this move too. One thing he might want to consider alongside his own revelations, however, is America’s current tendency of using state machinery to bring technology companies to heel. If NSO is one day removed from the entity list it will be reasonable to question what kind of deal it made with the US government to cause such a change of heart.

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