EFF filed a brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in support of WhatsApp’s lawsuit against notorious Israeli spyware company NSO Group. WhatsApp discovered last year that NSO Group had breached its systems and enabled NSO Group’s government clients to hack into the mobile phones of approximately 1,400 users in April and May 2019. A federal judge allowed the case to move forward earlier this year and NSO Group appealed.
NSO Group sells its “Pegasus” spyware, which enables surreptitious digital surveillance of mobile devices, exclusively to government agencies across the globe. The company is arguing that it should therefore be granted “foreign sovereign immunity,” a longstanding legal doctrine that says that foreign governments should generally have immunity from suit in U.S. courts for reasons that focus on preserving stability in international relations, also called “comity.”
EFF supports WhatsApp’s arguments that foreign sovereign immunity is inappropriate for private corporations, and submitted our brief to further argue that no corporation, whether foreign or American, should be granted immunity for contracting with foreign governments, especially when those governments use a company’s powerful surveillance technology to violate human rights.
We explained that surreptitious surveillance tools not only invade privacy and chill freedom of speech and association, they can also facilitate physical harm—from unlawful arrest to summary execution.
EFF’s brief provided examples of how NSO Group, via the WhatsApp hack, helped its client governments target members of civil society, including Rwandan political dissidents and a journalist critical of Saudi Arabia. We also highlighted other examples of NSO Group’s complicity in human rights abuses, including many perpetrated by the Mexican government against journalists and the wife of a murdered journalist.
Corporate complicity in human rights abuses is a widespread and ongoing problem, and the Ninth Circuit should not expand the ability of technology companies like NSO Group to avoid accountability for facilitating human rights abuses by foreign governments.