NSO Group, an Israeli tech firm, filed a libel action against an Israeli newspaper on Sunday after it published a series of explosive pieces alleging that Israeli police used its spyware illegally on hundreds of public figures.
The articles released in recent weeks by the Israeli business journal Calcalist sparked outrage over what the newspaper claimed was the police’s unrestricted use of sophisticated phone hacking software on a wide range of figures. An inquiry into the unsourced reports revealed no evidence of wrongdoing.
The NSO lawsuit is based on a recent report that claimed the company allowed clients to wipe traces of their spyware use, which the company rejects. However, the company, which has been criticised for its product, questioned the reports’ general trustworthiness, calling the series of articles “one-sided, biassed, and dishonest.”
“The thorough inquiry pulled the rug out from under another attempt to defame the company and its employees, and serves as additional proof that not every journalistic investigation with a spectacular headline regarding NSO is founded on facts,” the company said in a statement.
NSO was seeking damages of one million shekels (310,000 USD), which it promised would be donated to charity.
Police allegedly spied on politicians, protestors, and even members of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal circle, including one of his sons, according to the Calcalist. Police allegedly utilised Pegasus, an infamous spyware technology built by NSO, without getting a court warrant, according to the report.
Although the journalist, Tomer Ganon, has stood by his work, the investigation headed by Israel’s deputy attorney general found no evidence to back the charges. The investigation’s findings were a rare ray of sunshine for NSO, which has been chastised for its spyware.
Pegasus is a powerful tool that allows its user to penetrate a target’s phone and gather information such as messages, contacts, and location data.
Human rights activists, journalists, and politicians have been targeted by the NSO in countries ranging from Saudi Arabia to Poland, Mexico, and the United Arab Emirates. The US Commerce Department placed the business on a no-fly list in November, claiming that its technologies had been used to “conduct global repression.”
NSO claims that it exclusively distributes the equipment to government agencies in order to combat crime and terrorism, and that all sales are subject to Israeli government regulation.
The firm refuses to name its clients and claims to have no idea who is being targeted. Despite the fact that it claims to have controls in place to avoid abuse, it claims it has no control over how its clients use the programme.