Apple sues Israeli surveillance firm NSO

Firm seeks to hold NSO accountable for what it says was surveillance and targeting of Apple users

Apple is also asking for unspecified damages for the time and cost to deal with what the company argues is NSO’s abuse of its products. Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP

Apple sued the NSO Group, the Israeli surveillance company, in federal court Tuesday, another setback for the beleaguered firm and the unregulated spyware industry. The lawsuit is the second of its kind – Facebook sued the NSO Group in 2019 for targeting its WhatsApp users – and represents another consequential move by a private company to curb invasive spyware by governments and the companies that provide their spy tools.

Apple, for the first time, seeks to hold NSO accountable for what it says was the surveillance and targeting of Apple users. Apple also wants to permanently prevent NSO from using any Apple software, services or devices, a move that could render the company’s Pegasus spyware product worthless, given that its core business is to give NSO’s government clients full access to a target’s iPhone or Android smartphone.

Apple is also asking for unspecified damages for the time and cost to deal with what the company argues is NSO’s abuse of its products. Apple said it would donate the proceeds from those damages to organisations that expose spyware. Since NSO’s founding in 2010, its executives have said that they sell spyware to governments only for lawful interception, but a series of revelations by journalists and private researchers have shown the extent to which governments have deployed NSO’s Pegasus spyware against journalists, activists and dissidents.

Apple executives described the lawsuit as a warning shot to NSO and other spyware makers. The NSO Group has dealt with a series of critical setbacks. Earlier this month, the Biden administration, in a notable breach with Israel, blacklisted NSO and Candiru, another Israeli surveillance company, saying that they supplied spyware to foreign governments that used it to target the phones of journalists, dissidents, human rights activists and others.

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The ban, which means that no American organization can work with NSO, is the strongest step any U.S. administration has taken to bring the global marketplace for spyware to heel. The Israeli government, which approves any sale of NSO's software to foreign governments and considers the software a critical foreign policy tool, is lobbying the US to remove the ban on NSO's behalf. NSO has said it would fight the ban, but the executive set to take over NSO Group quit after the business was blacklisted, the company said. – This article originally appeared in The New York Times