An Israeli company scrutinized for its role in supplying spyware to foreign governments, a number of them on the African continent, has been placed under new restrictions by the United States government.
NSO Group, which develops and supplies Pegasus software, is now on the Entity List at the US. Department of Commerce. The decision by the department’s Bureau of Industry and Security means trade licensing limits for the company and its products.
The U.S. said the decision was based on Pegasus tools used to “maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics, and embassy workers” in ways that pose a threat to U.S. security as well as the international order.
“These tools have also enabled foreign governments to conduct transnational repression, which is the practice of authoritarian governments targeting dissidents, journalists and activists outside of their sovereign borders to silence dissent,” the U.S. statement said.
A July 2021 investigative report, coordinated by the Paris-based NGO Forbidden Stories with work done by dozens of journalists in 10 countries, concluded that NSO Group was selling these tools to repressive governments despite claims they are used only for legitimate criminal and terror investigations.
Morocco, Egypt and Rwanda were just three of the nations named in the July report. It was based on a leaked database of some 50,000 phone numbers tracked for surveillance, with 10,000 of them in Morocco alone, according to the Pegasus Project researchers.
NSO Group has consistently denied the reports, including one that linked Pegasus spyware to the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. It maintains that its technologies, used by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, are for legitimate counterterrorism and crime prevention purposes.