A court in Tel Aviv has rejected a lawsuit filed by Amnesty International attempting to prevent the Israeli spyware company NSO Group from selling its cyber weapons internationally.
The rights groups tried to force the Israel Defense Ministry to revoke the NSO Group’s export license for its leading Pegasus phone hacking software. Amnesty lawyers said the product was used by repressive governments to target activists, including one of the rights group̵
District judge Rachel Barkai, however, wrote in a short statement that Amnesty had not provided enough evidence to “support the allegation that an attempt was made to monitor a human rights defender.”
Barkai added that she was satisfied that the Department of Defense had “thoroughly and meticulously” granted export licenses with “a particularly high level of sensitivity to human rights violations.”
Israel exports arms and cyber weapons to several governments around the world, but keeps much of what it sells and to whom secret to prevent public control. Details of the Amnesty case were also largely confidential after the court accepted an application by the Ministry in January to hold closed-door hearings for national security reasons.
Amnesty Israel, the local branch of the organization, described the verdict as “shameful”.
Danna Ingleton, Acting Co-Director of Amnesty Tech, said the “shameful” decision was “a cruel blow to people at risk from the NSO Group worldwide to sell their products to notorious human rights abusers”.
She said the decision “flies in the face of mountains of evidence that NSO Group’s spyware is being used to fight human rights defenders from Saudi Arabia to Mexico, including the basis of this case – targeting one of our own Amnesty employees”.
A Defense Ministry spokesman said they had no comment on the verdict.
A spokesman for the NSO Group welcomed the verdict and called it “irrefutable evidence that the legal framework in which we operate meets the highest international standards.”
The company said its hacking tools were provided to “authorized and verified government agencies” and “were used only to combat terrorism, serious crime, and to protect public security.”
The spokesman added: “Our critics, who have made unfounded accusations to meet their own expectations, have no answer to the security challenges of the 21st century.”
While the NSO Group does not publish a list of its government customers, researchers from the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab have claimed that the company’s technology has been used by several authoritarian regimes to spy on dozens of journalists, human rights defenders and high-ranking government officials.