Amnesty vs. NSO: Does the Firm Have an Export License to Saudi Arabia?

The human rights organization has filed an injunction in Israeli court in order to revoke NSO’s export license to an unidentified country

Saudi crown prine Mohammed bin Salman

The human rights organization has filed an injunction in Israeli court in order to revoke NSO’s export license to an unidentified country. Amnesty believes multiple governments are using NSO’s “Pegasus” tool to harm its activists around the world.

Amnesty International has filed an injunction request in Israeli court against the Israeli Ministry of Defense, asking the state to discontinue software company NSO’s license to export its products to an unidentified country. According to estimates by Israel Defense, the country is Saudi Arabia. The request by amnesty mentions an interview granted by NSO, which is also mentioned in NSO’s response to the injunction request, and occurred in June 2018. In the past, NSO CEO Omri Lavie gave an interview to CBS in which he was asked explicitely about the company’s ties to Saudi Arabia. Lavie neither confirmed nor denied that NSO had sold its products to the kingdom.

The injunction request is part of a widespread campaign Amnesty is conducting against NSO. The organization claims that NSO’s software tools are being used by governments around the world to harm its personnel. The latest request is not Amnesty’s  first legal step against NSO in Israel; a previous lawsuit against NSO was filed recently in Israeli court by Canadian permanent resident and Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz, who claims that a Saudi-linked operation used “Pegasus” to hack Abdulaziz’s phone in June 2018.

In its response to Amnesty’s request to the court, NSO claimed the request was “an explicit example of the misuse of legal proceedings, as part of a wrong, dishonest campaign run by Amnesty International against the firm... it lacks any factual or evidential basis... and it is baselessly attempting to interfere with the power of the empowered authority, which is especially wide in matters of security and foreign affairs.”

NSO further claimed that in July 2018, attempts were made to form a communication channel between it and Amnesty regarding the Abdulaziz incident. “The palintiffs even hid the fact that the company agreed to examine the claims, and asked for details in order to conduct that examination. However, the organization’s representatives refused this request and were quick to publicize the defamatory claims against the firm globally – without giving the firm a fair chance to respond,” NSO representatives wrote.

According to NSO, the injunction request was not based on facts, but on media publications. Its representatives wrote that “there is nothing in the request but a collection of internet stories. According to legal precedent, internet publications and advertisements cannot be a proper foundation for an administrative appeal.”

The Ministry of Defense claimed that the courts have no business discussing this case, as it falls under the purview of the executive branch. It claimed the case should be dismissed without delay. The MoD claimed it never publically addressed the granting of marketing licenses or exporting licenses that are relevant to this case. Amnesty has requested to have proceedings continue in open court, while the MoD wants them to happen behind closed doors. The judge in the case said a decision on the public or private nature of court session in this case will be given when they begin.

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