In December 2020, the Citizen Lab published The Great iPwn: Journalists Hacked with Suspected NSO Group iMessage ‘Zero-Click’ Exploit. This report detailed how government operatives used NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to hack 36 personal phones belonging to journalists, producers, anchors, and executives at Al Jazeera, as well as the personal phone of a journalist at London-based Al Araby TV. After the report was published, NSO Group stated that it would review the information in the report and undertake an investigation “if warranted.”
However, the Citizen Lab has little reason to believe that such an investigation would be genuine, transparent, and thorough. As highlighted by a coalition of human rights organizations in a letter to NSO Group released today, NSO Group continues to fail in human rights compliance. The company has fallen far short of numerous promises and commitments it made, in particular with regards to transparency and its human rights due diligence framework. Dr. Ron Deibert, founder and director of the Citizen Lab, makes the following points in his latest reply to NSO Group:
“What is clear and specific is NSO Group’s historical and ongoing failure to act on evidence of documented human rights abuses. It is also my opinion that your corporate social responsibility pledges are little more than theatre. The spectacle might be a mildly entertaining farce were it not for the very real and gruesome way in which your company’s spyware is abused by the world’s worst autocrats behind the curtains. Time and again, your company’s irresponsible actions have proven your words are nothing more than hand-waving distractions from the harsh reality of the poorly regulated marketplace in which NSO Group, and its shareholders, thrive and profit. Until that approach changes, we see no particular value in participating in this charade.”
With a potential initial public offering on the horizon, NSO Group’s failure to meet its commitments to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights is deeply concerning.