A Tel Aviv court has rejected a legal case filed by Amnesty International that attempted to block the Israeli spyware firm NSO Group from selling its cyberweapons internationally.
The rights groups sought to force the Israeli ministry of defence to revoke NSO Group’s export licence for its leading phone-hacking software, Pegasus. Amnesty’s lawyers alleged the product had been used by repressive governments to target activists, including one the rights group’s own researchers, as well as journalists.
However, the district court judge Rachel Barkai wrote in a short statement that Amnesty had not provided sufficient evidence to “substantiate the claim that an attempt was made to monitor a human rights activist”.
Barkai added that she was satisfied that the ministry of defence was “thorough and meticulous” in granting export licences with “particularly high sensitivity to the issue of human rights violations”.
Israel exports arms and cyberweapons to multiple governments around the world but keeps secret much of what it sells and to whom, preventing public scrutiny. Details of the Amnesty case were also mostly confidential after the court in January accepted a ministry request to hold hearings behind closed doors on national security grounds.
Amnesty Israel, the local branch of the organisation, described the verdict as “shameful”.
Danna Ingleton, the acting co-director of Amnesty Tech, said the “disgraceful” ruling was “a cruel blow to people put at risk around the world by NSO Group selling its products to notorious human rights abusers”.
She said the decision “flies in the face of the mountains of evidence of NSO Group’s spyware being used to target human rights defenders from Saudi Arabia to Mexico, including the basis of this case – the targeting of one of our own Amnesty employees”.
A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said they had no comment on the ruling.
An NSO Group spokesperson welcomed the judgment, calling it “irrefutable evidence that the regulatory framework in which we operate in is of the highest international standard”.
The company said its hacking tools were provided to “authorised and verified government agencies” and “only used to fight terror and serious crime, and protect public safety”.
The spokesperson added: “Our detractors, who have made baseless accusations to fit their own agendas, have no answer to the security challenges of the 21st century.”
While NSO Group does not publish a list of its government clients, researchers at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab have alleged the firm’s technology has been used by multiple authoritarian regimes to spy on dozens of journalists, human rights activists and senior government officials.