WhatsApp: Scores of activists targeted with NSO spyware in India and across the world

Amnesty International India
Bengaluru/ New Delhi: 31 October 2019 12:48 pm

WhatsApp, a messaging service owned by Facebook has confirmed that many journalists and human rights activists from India have been the target of surveillance by a spyware produced by the Israeli firm NSO.  This is a grave violation of the activists’ fundamental right to privacy enshrined in both national and international law.

On 29 October, WhatsApp said the NSO spyware, which is intended to ‘prevent crime and terrorism’ was used to exploit a vulnerability in the messaging app to target approximately 1,400 people between April 2019 and May 2019.  According to WhatsApp, over 100 of these were human rights activists in countries around the world including India. The vulnerability, first published in May, allowed attackers to install the spyware by calling the target using WhatsApp.

On 7 November, the Tel Aviv’s District Court is due to hear a legal case arguing that Israel’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) should revoke NSO Groups export license. The company’s Pegasus software has been used to target journalists and activists across the globe – including in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates. An Amnesty International staff member was also targeted using NSO malware.

 

The legal action is being brought by approximately 30 members and supporters of Amnesty International Israel and others from the human rights community. The action is supported by Amnesty International as part of a joint project with New York University (NYU) School of Law’s Bernstein Institute for Human Rights and Global Justice Clinic, which seeks justice for human rights defenders targeted with malicious software.

 

“NSO says its spyware is solely intended to ‘prevent crime and terrorism’, but instead the firm’s invasive surveillance tools are being used to commit human rights abuses. The safest way to stop NSO’s spyware products reaching governments who plan to misuse them is to revoke the company’s export license. This is why next week, Amnesty International is supporting a legal case in Tel Aviv District Court to force the Israeli Ministry of Defence to do exactly that”, said Danna Ingleton, Deputy Director of Amnesty Tech.