Israeli spyware company NSO Group has blocked questions about whether it is operating legally, according to consultants acting on behalf of the controversial company’s owners.
Berkeley Research Group, the US consultancy hired last year to lead the private equity fund that owns 70 percent of NSO, has told EU lawmakers that its inquiries about the “legitimacy” of NSO “were being carried out by the NSO Group ignored and/or thwarted management team”.
Concerns remain about “the historical leadership of the NSO group” and “possible ongoing activities in relation to it.” [BRG is] kept in the dark,” BRG lawyers wrote in a letter to MPs.
BRG’s complaint is a further escalation of the controversy surrounding NSO, which was once a prized asset used by Israel as a diplomatic calling card but is now facing lawsuits from Meta and Apple and has been blacklisted by the US.
NSO’s Pegasus software can infiltrate a smartphone and mirror its encrypted content. Last year it was found to have been used to attack the smartphones of 37 journalists, human rights activists and other prominent figures.
This was announced by the Spanish government last week that it was used to hack the cellphones of the country’s prime minister and defense minister, in its first confirmed use against an incumbent prime minister.
In the letter to MPs sent out last month, BRG’s lawyers said the consultancy has been “investigating the historical and ongoing conduct and conduct of NSO Group’s businesses” since August, including its compliance with a US trade blacklist.
But that process has “stalled” due to NSO’s stance, the letter said. “Suffice it to say that the investigations so far have raised many more questions than they answer,” the letter to MPs said. It offered to share information with the politicians as they explored the use of Pegasus.
NSO said it “adheres to a very strict legal and regulatory framework in all relevant areas of operations.”
It states: “The management of the company acts under proper corporate governance, works closely with all duly appointed directors and cooperates with any required statutory supervision.”
In March, the European Parliament set up a committee to investigate the use of Pegasus and other surveillance spyware, saying it would examine “whether that use violated EU law and fundamental rights”.
Sophie in’t Veld, the Dutch MEP who led the inquiry, said the BRG letter raises questions that are “at the heart of what we want to know” and that MEPs would discuss its content with NSO.
“We need to know how they work and how their products are sold to governments and non-state actors,” she said. “There is no clarity as to how much access to information they have. We do not know it.”
The Israeli government has approved the sale of Pegasus on the condition that it will be used to counter terrorism and serious crime.
When the US Department of Commerce blacklisted the company last year, it said NSO had supplied software to foreign governments that had used it to “maliciously attack” government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics and embassy employees.
“When [the firm representing] Her own owner breaks the glass and contacts a committee of inquiry, which is an extraordinary act,” said John Scott-Railton, senior researcher at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab. “For me, it underscores the fact that NSO is a runaway actor.”
BRG declined to comment. It has previously said in court filings that NSO is “worthless” to its private equity backers.
The letter to MPs comes at a time when the BRG is under increasing pressure. It took control of €1bn private equity fund Novalpina Capital, which owns NSO, last year after investors in the fund evicted the three co-founders of Novalpina over a dispute between the trio.
But BRG is facing a legal bid in Luxembourg to oust it from control of the fund that owns NSO.
NSO Group keeping owners ‘in the dark’, manager says Source link NSO Group keeping owners ‘in the dark’, manager says