NSO Group Releases Transparency Report; Amnesty Says its Too Little, Too Late

The NSO Group, the Israeli spyware firm whose products have been implicated in everything from the murder of Saudi journalist Jamaal Kashoggi to the targeting and surveillance of activists and journalists in Morocco, Mexico, Cyprus and elsewhere, has released it’s first “Transparency & Responsibility Report.”

NSO says it only sells to governments and that its tools are meant to be used to combat serious organized crime and terrorism. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)NSO says it only sells to governments and that its tools are meant to be used to combat serious organized crime and terrorism. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)Included in the 32-page-report is a section on the group’s human rights policy, which claims that NSO will include “the integration of human rights due diligence procedures to identify, prevent and mitigate the risks of adverse human rights impacts,” as well as “contractual obligations requiring our customers to limit the use of our products to the prevention and investigation of serious crimes, including terrorism, and to ensure that the products will not be used to violate human rights.”

However, Amnesty International, which itself has had employees targeted by the group's technology, has called the report “another missed opportunity.”

“NSO Group’s latest report – which reads more like a sales brochure - is yet another missed opportunity for the company to be transparent and provide meaningful information about the human rights impacts of its products,” said Amnesty.

“Crucially, NSO Group ignores the issue of remediation for victims and fails to disclose all the legal challenges the company has faced resulting from the misuse of its technology. This is a serious omission that leaves investors in the dark about the legal risks they may face.“

In 2019, Amnesty International revealed that two Moroccan human rights defenders, Maati Monjib and Abdessadak El Bouchattaoui, were targeted by NSO Group’s Pegasus software. If the target clicks a single link, Pegasus can be installed on a device and record all of its users' activities.

Monjib was an academic and activist who reported on freedom of expression in the North African kingdom while El Bouchattaoui was a defense lawyer representing the leaders of the Hirak El-Rif, a movement by indigenous Amazigh residents of Morocco’s mountainous Rif region that protested police brutality in 2016. Forty-three leaders of the movement were ultimately given prison sentences of up to 20 years.

Though NSO says it only sells to governments and that its tools are meant to be used to combat serious organized crime and terrorism, the two Moroccan activists are far from the only ones outside that definition targeted by  those tools. 

In Mexico alone, 11 journalists, activists and anti-corruption workers were targeted with NSO’s tools between 2015 and 2016, OCCRP has reported