NSO Group boss claims Qatar or BDS behind Pegasus scandal

Rights experts dismiss 'laughable' NSO Group claim that Qatar or BDS behind Pegasus scandal
3 min read
25 July, 2021
Shalev Hulio claims that Qatar or BDS were behind the latest Pegasus scandal.
Reports revealed that the Pegasus spyware breached data of at least 50,000 individuals including activists, journalists and world leaders [Getty]

The CEO of the Israeli spyware company NSO Group has come under criticism over remarks he made following allegations that his firm's Pegasus software was used by repressive regimes to spy on journalists, activists, dissidents and heads of states.

Shalev Hulio claimed on Wednesday that Qatar or the global Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement were behind the latest Pegasus scandal.

"I believe that it's either Qatar or BDS, or both. It always ends up being the same entities," Hulio said in remarks to Israeli daily Israel Hayom.

"I don't want to sound cynical, but there are people who don't want ice cream imported [to Israel] or to see our technologies exported," he said, in reference to Ben & Jerry's decision earlier this week to stop selling their ice cream in the occupied West Bank.

"I don't think it's a coincidence that in the same week they are trying to prevent Cellebrite from having its IPO, and reports come out about Candiru and Quadream, and then us," Hulio said, referring to other Israeli spyware firms also accused of providing spyware to repressive governments that have used it to snoop on journalists and activists.

"It just doesn't make sense that it's all just a big coincidence that everything is happening at the same time," he alleged.

Hulio's comments came days after reports revealed that the Pegasus spyware breached data of at least 50,000 individuals including activists, journalists and world leaders.

Amnesty International and French media nonprofit Forbidden Stories collaborated with a clutch of media companies, including the Washington Post, the Guardian and Le Monde, to analyse and publish the list, which included at least 180 journalists, 600 politicians, 85 human rights activists and 65 business leaders.

Perspectives

Hulio’s remarks drew fierce criticism, with rights experts pointing to NSO's apparent lack of accountability and the dangers the spyware company posed on global human rights.

"It's pretty laughable that the NSO group is trying to claim some grand conspiracy against its company using absurd accusations and of course failing to actually account for the terrible harm its company has caused to countless of journalists, activists and political leaders," Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now [DAWN] told Qatar-based Doha News.

"It's very clear that when the NSO group says that they suspended a number of countries from using their software because they discovered that they were misusing the software, there's an admission that their technology has been misused," Whitson added.

Earlier this week, Amnesty International warned that the use of Pegasus software exposed a global human rights crisis, calling for a moratorium on the sale and use of surveillance technology.

"This is a dangerous industry that has operated on the edges of legality for too long, and this cannot be allowed to continue,"  Agnes Callamard, Amnesty's secretary general, said in the statement.

"Now, we urgently need greater regulation over the cyber surveillance industry, accountability for human rights violations and abuses, and greater oversight over this shadowy industry."

Amnesty called for an immediate moratorium on any export, sale, transfer and use of surveillance technology "until there is a human rights-compliant regulatory framework in place".

"The fact that world and other political leaders themselves may have come into the spyware technology's crosshairs will hopefully serve as a long overdue wake-up call for them and states worldwide to step up and regulate this industry," Callamard said.