A group of high-profile technology companies, including Microsoft, Google, Cisco and VMWare, have filed an amicus assignment in support of Facebook’s legal action against NSO Group, Microsoft announced. WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, sued the spyware vendor last year, claiming that the software was used to hack 1400 devices via a vulnerability in the messaging service. Other companies listed on the submission include the Internet Association, and Microsoft affiliates GitHub and LinkedIn.
In response to Facebook’s lawsuit last year, NSO Group argued that it should benefit from ‘sovereign immunity’. Reuters reports, because it sells its tools to foreign governments. But in July a judge refused his request to dismiss the lawsuit. Now, NSO Group is appealing to reverse the ruling, and it is this appeal against which Microsoft and others are pushing back.
In a blog post titled ‘Cyber Mercenaries Do Not Deserve Immunity’, Microsoft gives three reasons why they believe NSO Group’s actions are relevant, and why it does not deserve the immunity it seeks. “We believe the NSO group’s business model is dangerous and that such immunity makes it and other PSOAs possible [private-sector offensive actors] to continue their dangerous business without legal rules, responsibilities or consequences, ”reads the report from Microsoft.
First, Microsoft argues that NSO Group’s ‘weapons’ can be incredibly dangerous if they fall into the wrong hands. Second, it is said that these instruments are not subject to the same restrictions as those made by private enterprises rather than government security agencies. Governments should be concerned about their diplomatic relations and about keeping their own citizens safe, while private enterprises do not. Finally, Microsoft claims that these tools are a threat to human rights, following reports that they have been used on journalists and human rights defenders.
“Private companies must be liable when they use their cyber-surveillance tools to violate the law, or knowingly use it for such purposes, regardless of who their customers are or what they are trying to achieve,” the Microsoft report reads. “We hope the collaboration with our competitors through this amicus mission will help protect our collective customers and the global digital ecosystem.”
NSO Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In the past, the company has argued that its software is used by government agencies to tackle organized crime and terrorism. It says it is investigating any allegations of misuse of its products.
Over the years, several reports have claimed that the spyware of NSO Group has been used against targets ranging from journalists and political dissidents. A report by Citizen Lab claimed over the weekend that the software was used to engage dozens of Al Jazeera employees, and it was reported earlier that the software was used to target A Spanish politician, and Mexican journalists, among others.