Israel wants United States to lift sanctions on controversial cyber-spy firms

Computer hacking

THE GOVERNMENT OF ISRAEL is pressuring the United States to reverse its recent decision to blacklist two controversial digital surveillance companies, which Israel sees as “a crucial element of its foreign policy”. The US Department of Commerce placed the two firms, NSO Group Technologies and Candiru, on a sanctions list on November 3. According to a statement issued by the US Department of Commerce, the two firms engaged “in activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States”.

The move followed revelations of a spy software known as Pegasus, which is marketed by NSO Group. As intelNews and others reported back in July, Pegasus is able to install itself on targeted telephones without requiring their users to click a link or download an application. Upon installation, the software provides the spying party with near-complete control of a targeted telephone. This includes the ability to browse through the device’s contents, such as photographs and videos, record conversations, as well as activate the telephone’s built-in microphone and camera at any time, without its user’s consent or knowledge.

The US is among several Western governments that have criticized the Pegasus software as a malicious tool used by some of NSO Group’s customers to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics, and embassy workers”. Software tools such as Pegasus have enabled a host of governments around the world to “conduct transnational repression [by] targeting dissidents, journalists and activists outside of their sovereign borders to silence dissent”, according to the US Department of Commerce.

According to The New York Times, however, the government of Israel supports the work of NSO Group and Candiru, and “sees the Pegasus software as a crucial element of its foreign policy”. The Israelis were thus “alarmed” by Washington’s decision to blacklist the two firms, and are determined to lobby the White House on their behalf. The goal of the Israeli government, according to the paper, is to convince the American administration that the activities of NSO and Candiru, “remain of great importance to the national security of both” Israel and the US. In return for the US reversing its decision to blacklist the companies, Israel is willing to exercise “much tighter supervision” of these and other similar firms, through its software-licensing system, according to The Times.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 November 2021 | Permalink

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