A US federal court judge has ruled “no sovereign immunity” for Israeli mobile surveillance firm NSO Group in WhatsApp spying lawsuit. The judge, Phyllis Hamilton denied most arguments made by NSO Group during its motion to dismiss the suit.
The lawsuit came as a result of NSO Group’s impersonation of popular social networking platform, Facebook, as a part of the ploy to get users install its phone-hacking tool named Pegasus. Reports claim that evidence has been found against the Israeli firm using servers inside US to spread its spying tool.
For the uninitiated, the Pegasus spyware can access sensitive information stored on a mobile phone. Once installed, the spyware can read text messages and other data on the phone including browser history, access the microphone and camera, and can even track its location with GPS.
The owner of WhatsApp, Facebook filed a lawsuit accusing NSO Group deliberately spreading its software over the instant messaging app, thus compromising hundreds of phones – including those of human rights activists and journalists, diplomats, political dissidents, and senior government officials
In a separate set of accusations, the Mark Zuckerberg-run company also alleged that the Israeli surveillance firm supplied software to the Saudi government, which is believed to have been used for spying on journalist Jamal Khashoggi before he was killed.
In its complaint, Facebook accused of NSO operating the spyware itself. However, NSO asked the court to dismiss the case, claiming that it never uses its spyware, only sovereign governments do.
The latter’s arguments were denied by the US court, which stated in its judgment that the lawsuit against NSO Group may proceed, with no sovereign immunity to the Israeli firm. The team at NSO is now reviewing the court’s order, claiming that its technology is used to save lives and prevent terror and crime worldwide, and that the firm’s actions are lawful.
WhatsApp, on the other hand, has expressed its pleasure with the court’s decision, since the instant messaging service would now be able to obtain relevant documents and other information about NSO’s practices.