President Biden Issues Executive Order Banning Spyware Use by U.S. Government Agencies

Tyler Cross
Tyler Cross Senior Writer
Tyler Cross Tyler Cross Senior Writer

President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Monday, prohibiting the use of commercial spyware by U.S. government agencies. The directive comes after the discovery that the threat was more extensive than previously indicated.

The new directive targets spyware, or malicious software, that infiltrates mobile phones with a few clicks. The order was partly prompted by the 2021 discovery that around a dozen US State Department employees had their iPhones hacked by spyware developed by Israeli firm NSO Group, however, it has since come to light that more than 50 U.S. officials were targetted by invasive mobile phone hacking tools.

The executive order aims to address growing concerns over spyware being used on the citizens of both authoritarian governments and democracies both. Oftentimes, these tools are used to suppress dissent and political figures, while also posing counterintelligence and security risks to the U.S., including the safety of government personnel and their families.

One of the lawmakers who was calling for stronger action against spyware, Democratic Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, believes the more we investigate the issue, the more victims government personnel will appear as victims of the spyware.

In addition, the directive has several broader aims and goals. Several press reports of European governments using spyware against their own citizens have also recently come to light, which put pressure on the current administration to act.

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken in the hopes of forming an international coalition to combat spyware worldwide.

The directive does not exclude using the tools for testing purposes, only operationally. It’s unclear the extent to which the U.S. government has engaged in spyware use.

The CIA supposedly purchased the tool for the government of Djibouti, according to a New York Times report, while The FBI has reportedly considered using NSO Group’s hacking tool in criminal investigations.

Later this week, the Biden administration will co-host a “Summit for Democracy” with governments worldwide.

About the Author
Tyler Cross
Tyler Cross
Senior Writer

About the Author

Tyler is a writer at SafetyDetectives with a passion for researching all things tech and cybersecurity. Prior to joining the SafetyDetectives team, he worked with cybersecurity products hands-on for more than five years, including password managers, antiviruses, and VPNs and learned everything about their use cases and function. When he isn't working as a "SafetyDetective", he enjoys studying history, researching investment opportunities, writing novels, and playing Dungeons and Dragons with friends."