Israeli phone spyware developers NSO Group have filed a libel lawsuit against business newspaper Calcalist after it reported their systems were illegally used by the Israeli police, reports Associated Press. Calcalist published a series of troubling articles based on supposed whistleblower testimony alleging that the Israeli police spies on individuals without obtaining a legal warrant first, and only seeks to obtain a court order if they find evidence that can be used to prosecute. This followed revelations that NSO Group’s Pegasus phone spyware had been routinely used by various governments for surveillance of political opponents, journalists and activists.
The source of the claims about the Israeli police abuses was not disclosed by Calcalist and a subsequent investigation by the Israeli Justice Ministry found “no indication” of warrantless spying by the police. The journalist who wrote the story, Tomer Gannon, continues to defend the authenticity of his source. NSO Group’s libel action focuses on a specific claim reported in one article: that users of Pegasus may delete records from the log of surveillance conducted. They are asking for INS1mn (USD300,000) in damages and have promised this would be donated to charity.
My reading of this legal action is that NSO Group cannot possibly know if the Israeli police obtained warrants before they used Pegasus for phone surveillance, so they are trying to engineer a victory over one relatively minor technical fact in order to present themselves as the victims of biased reporting. NSO Group has repeatedly said they do not control how clients use the surveillance systems sold to them, which places them in an analogous position to gun manufacturers who resist laws to prohibit firearms whilst deflecting criticism about the use of weapons by murderers and crackpots. However, NSO Group clearly is aware of abuses of their system. This was demonstrated by the choice of words when NSO Group responded to the findings of the Israeli Justice Ministry.
The thorough investigation that was carried out pulls the rug out from under another attempt to discredit the company and its workers and serves as additional proof that not every journalistic investigation with a sensational headline about NSO is indeed based on facts
“Not every” damning headline about NSO Group is supported by the facts? That implies some of them are factually correct and NSO Group knows it.