NSO-owner to draw line under WhatsApp-hacking accusations

The maker of a controversial WhatsApp-hacking software has claimed it is drawing a line under a recent scandal over its use.

The owner of Israeli tech firm NSO has said it will unveil a new “governance framework” to ensure its software’s lawful use, but concerns remain over its controversial spyware technology.

Novalpina, the majority owner of the company, said the software has been used to hack phones to prevent terrorist attacks, infiltrate drug cartels and help rescue kidnapped children.

But a human’s right lawyer and vocal critics of the Saudi government have claimed that NSO’s Pegasus software has been used to unlawfully infiltrate their WhatsApp conversations.

The technology is designed to help law enforcement agencies to collect data or legally intercept communications of individuals suspected of terrorism or organised crime.

Last month, the Financial Times reported that the technology firm has been hit with two lawsuits claiming it tracked the software to the phones of journalists, dissidents and critics of governments.

Omar Abdulaziz, a Canada-based critic of Saudi Arabia and friend of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi alleges in one of the lawsuits that his phone was unlawfully hacked with the software to track his conversations.

NSO has also faced to pressure to improve its transparency, with the company’s ethics policies and decision-making overseen by an anonymous committee shrouded in secrecy.

Private equity firm Novalpina, which purchased its majority stake in February 2019, said it will announce a new framework for the firm which will be a “new benchmark transparency and respect for human rights”, and fully align with the UN’s guiding principles.

Although the exact details of the framework remain unknown, Novalpina said it will “in future aim to disclose all information of relevance and importance unless it is expressly prohibited in law” from doing so.

The framework will also call for attention to be paid to potential breaches of the human rights of individuals at “heightened risk of vulnerability or marginalisation” such as journalists and human rights defenders.

Stephen Peel, co-founder of Novalpina, said: “The lawful, appropriate and responsible deployment of surveillance technologies such as NSO’s by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies is essential to address the serious consequences of what would otherwise be untraceable crime, terrorism, paedophile rings, human trafficking, drug cartels and the like.

“Novalpina is committed to do whatever necessary to ensure NSO’s technology is used only for its intended lawful purpose, the prevention of harm to our fundamental human rights to life, liberty and security from acts of terrorism and serious crime.”