The United States Commerce Department on Wednesday added NSO Group to its trade blacklist, over three months after media reports emerged about misuse of the Pegasus spyware developed by the Israeli company, Reuters reported.
The United States government noted that the company sold spyware to foreign governments that used it to target government officials and journalists.
The decision means that exports to the company from firms based in the United States would be restricted.
“Today’s action is a part of the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to put human rights at the center of US foreign policy, including by working to stem the proliferation of digital tools used for repression,” The Guardian quoted the commerce department as saying.
The department added that the decision was aimed at improving citizens’ digital security, combatting cyber threats, and mitigating unlawful surveillance.
A spokesperson of the NSO Group said that the company will ask for a reversal of the decision, according to The Guardian. “NSO Group is dismayed by the decision given that our technologies support US national security interests and policies by preventing terrorism and crime,” the company said.
Apart from the NSO Group, the United States government has added three other companies to its blacklist. These are Israeli firm Candiru, Russian firm Positive Technologies and Singapore-based Computer Security Initiative Consultancy PTE LTD.
The Pegasus project
The surveillance accusations came to light in July through an investigative project involving Paris-based media nonprofit Forbidden Stories, Amnesty International and 17 media organisations from across the world, including Indian news website The Wire. They accessed database with phone numbers of potential targets of surveillance.
The possible targets in India included over 40 journalists, two Union ministers, former Election Commissioner of India Ashok Lavasa, former Supreme Court judge Arun Mishra and the woman who accused former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment, among others.
Among global personalities, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, French President Emmanuel Macron and his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa were the possible targets of surveillance using Pegasus hacking software.
On October 27, the Supreme Court of India appointed a three-member technical committee to investigate allegations that the Pegasus software was used to snoop on Indian citizens.