An Israeli court denied a request to deprive the controversial Israeli spyware company NSO Group of its export license for the alleged use of the company’s technology to target journalists and dissidents around the world.
The case, brought by Amnesty International in January, called on the court to prevent NSO from selling its technology abroad, particularly to repressive governments.
Tel Aviv District Court ruled that Amnesty lawyers have not provided sufficient evidence “to substantiate the claim that an attempt to track down a human rights activist while trying to hack into his mobile phone ”Or the hacking was carried out by NSO.
“Licensing is done after the most rigorous process and also after the permit is granted, the authority performs careful monitoring and inspection, if necessary,” the court said. If it turns out that human rights have been violated, the permit can be suspended or canceled, he added.
The court released its decision on Sunday, but did not release it until Monday.
Gil Naveh, spokesperson for Amnesty International Israel, said the group was disappointed but not surprised.
“It is a long-standing tradition for the Israeli courts to be a rubber stamp for the Israeli Defense Ministry,” he said.
The group does not know what evidence the NSO or the Ministry of Defense provided to the court, because the hearings were closed. “Even if we knew, we couldn’t talk about it,” he said.
In 2018, Amnesty said one of its employees was targeted by NSO malware, claiming that a hacker had attempted to enter the staff member’s smartphone, using a WhatsApp message regarding a protest outside the Saudi Embassy in Washington as bait.
NSO, an Israeli for-hire hacker, uses its Pegasus spyware to take control of a phone, its cameras and microphones and to extract user personal information.
The company has been accused of selling its surveillance software to repressive governments that use it against dissidents. It does not disclose clients, but is believed to include states from the Middle East and Latin America. The company said it is selling its technology to governments approved by Israel to help them fight criminals and terrorism.
NSO Group said in a statement that the company “will continue to work to provide technology to states and intelligence services,” adding that its goal is “to save human lives.”
In a report released last month, Amnesty International said that Moroccan journalist Omar Radi’s phone was tapped using NSO technology as part of the government’s efforts to quell dissent.
A Saudi dissident accused the NSO of being involved in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.