A group of US lawmakers is urging the Treasury and State Department to sanction Israeli spyware firm NSO Group along with three other foreign surveillance companies for helping authoritarian governments commit human rights abuses.
In a letter sent on Dec. 14, the group also asks for sanctions on high-level executives at NSO, the United Arab Emirates cybersecurity company, DarkMatter, and European online bulk surveillance companies Nexa Technologies and Trovicor.
The lawmakers called for Global Magnitsky sanctions, which punishes individuals and organizations accused of enabling human rights abuses by freezing bank accounts and banning travel to the United States.
The letter was signed by Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wynden and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, along with 16 other Democratic lawmakers. This also comes after NSO Pegasus spyware was found being used against State Department employees in Uganda earlier this month.
The lawmakers said the spyware industry relies on US investment and banks. “To meaningfully punish them and send a clear signal to the surveillance technology industry, the US government should deploy financial sanctions,” they wrote.
The letter also said that the companies enabled the “disappearance, torture, and murder of human rights activists and journalists.”
Spyware firms have increasingly drawn criticism from US lawmakers as media reports connecting them to human rights abuses continue to mount.
“These surveillance mercenaries sold their services to authoritarian regimes with long records of human rights abuses, giving vast spying powers to tyrants,” Wyden told Reuters. “Predictably, those nations used surveillance tools to lock up, torture, and murder reporters and human rights advocates. The Biden administration has the chance to turn off the spigot of American dollars and help put them out of business for good.”
In November, the Commerce Department placed NSO Group on the Entity List. This prevents US suppliers from selling software or services to the Israeli surveillance company without receiving special permission.
Tech giant Apple also sued NSO Group in November, claiming that it violated US laws by breaching the software installed on iPhones.