Can’t Reveal Client But We Sell Only to Govts: NSO To The Quint
Video Editor: Mohd Ibrahim
The NSO Group, which makes the Pegasus spyware used to target at least two dozen Indian citizens, has told The Quint that it “is not able to disclose who is or is not a client” but in the same paragraph reiterated that its software products are sold to no entity but governments.
In response to a list of questions to the Israeli cyberintelligence company asking it whether it entered into agreement with any Indian government agency, the NSO responded saying: “The sole purpose of NSO is to provide technology to licensed government intelligence and law enforcement agencies.”
Catch all the coverage on WhatsApp snooping here.
While IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad issued a statement on 31 October calling the incident a “breach of privacy” and has asked WhatsApp to reply by 4 November, the government has not yet made any statement indicating whether an investigation was launched to find out who has procured the spyware.
The company's official response also stated two significant policy measures.
First, the company “considers any other use of our products than to prevent serious crime and terrorism a misuse” and such use as witnessed on Indian citizens, “is contractually prohibited.”
Second, NSO Group also specifically stated that “we take action if we detect any misuse.”
Since Tuesday, The Quint has been able to confirm 20 Indian citizens who were targeted by Pegasus spyware. Those snooped upon are lawyers associated with the Elgar Parishad and Bhima Koregaon case, anti-caste activists and journalists reporting on defence.
While the NSO group’s statement on the issue did not address the India incident specifically and instead highlighted the lawsuit against it by WhatsApp owner Facebook, the response provides clarity on the company’s stance on the ongoing ‘snoopgate controversy’.
On Tuesday, several cyber experts, lawyers and digital rights activists urged the government to come forward and disclose if any of its agencies was involved in the procurement of the technology.
“The government should make full and frank disclosure on whether it procured the spyware, how were they used and whether any legal safeguards were put in place for its deployment,” Apar Gupta, executive director, Internet Freedom Foundation and Supreme Court advocate, told The Quint.
“To protect the ongoing public safety missions of its agency customers and given significant legal and contractual constraints, NSO Group is not able to disclose who is or is not a client or discuss specific uses of its technology,” the statement added.
Reproduced below is the full text of the response received from the NSO Group on Wednesday.
Regarding the lawsuit filed by Facebook, NSO has released the following statement:
“In the strongest possible terms, we dispute today’s allegations and will vigorously fight them. The sole purpose of NSO is to provide technology to licensed government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to help them fight terrorism and serious crime. Our technology is not designed or licensed for use against human rights activists and journalists. It has helped to save thousands of lives over recent years.
“The truth is that strongly encrypted platforms are often used by pedophile rings, drug kingpins and terrorists to shield their criminal activity. Without sophisticated technologies, the law enforcement agencies meant to keep us all safe face insurmountable hurdles. NSO’s technologies provide proportionate, lawful solutions to this issue.
“We consider any other use of our products than to prevent serious crime and terrorism a misuse, which is contractually prohibited. We take action if we detect any misuse. This technology is rooted in the protection of human rights – including the right to life, security and bodily integrity – and that’s why we have sought alignment with the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, to make sure our products are respecting all fundamental human rights.”
On background, to protect the ongoing public safety missions of its agency customers and given significant legal and contractual constraints, NSO Group is not able to disclose who is or is not a client or discuss specific uses of its technology, as explained in its Transparency Statement of Principles. However, the company’s products are licensed to government intelligence and law enforcement agencies for the sole purpose of preventing and investigating terror and serious crime
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