Microsoft, Google, Cisco and Dell join the legal battle against hacking company NSO

(Reuters) – Technology giants, including Microsoft and Google, joined Facebook’s legal battle against hacker NSO on Monday, filing a amicus brief in federal court warning that the Israeli company’s tools are “powerful and dangerous.”

The document, filed before the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit, opens a new front in Facebook’s lawsuit against the NSO, which it filed last year after it was revealed that the cyber surveillance company exploited a bug in Facebook’s instant messaging plans WhatsApp to help monitor more than 1,400 people worldwide.

The NSO argued that because it sells digital entry tools to police and intelligence agencies, it should enjoy “sovereign immunity” – a legal doctrine that generally isolates foreign governments from litigation. The NSO lost this argument in the Northern District of California in July and has since resorted to the Ninth Circuit to overturn the ruling.

Microsoft, Google, owned by Alphabet, Cisco, VMWare owned by Dell Technologies and the Washington Internet Association have joined forces with Facebook to argue against this, saying that granting NSO superior immunity would lead to a proliferation of hacking technology. and “several foreign governments with powerful and dangerous tools of cyber surveillance. “

In turn, “it means significantly more opportunities for these tools to fall into the wrong hands and be used unfavorably,” the document said.

The NSO – which did not immediately send a message seeking comment – claims that its products are used to fight crime. But human rights defenders and technologies in places like Toronto’s Citizen Lab and London’s Amnesty International have documented cases where NSO technology has been used to target reporters, lawyers and even nutritionists lobbying for soda taxes.

Citizen Lab released a report on Sunday claiming that NSO phone hacking technology was deployed to hack three dozen phones belonging to journalists, manufacturers, anchors and executives at Qatar’s Al Jazeera broadcaster, as well as a handy device. a London reporter – TV Al Araby based.

The NSO’s spy program has also been linked to the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed and dismembered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Khashoggi’s friend, dissident video blogger Omar Abdulaziz, has long claimed that it was the Saudi government’s ability to see their WhatsApp messages that led to their deaths.

The NSO has denied hacking Khashoggi, but has so far declined to comment on whether his technology was used to spy on others in his circle.

Reporting by Raphael Satter; Edited by Sonya Hepinstall and Stephen Coates