United Kingdom: NSO Group blocked from promoting infamous spyware at London Fair


Following an urgent letter to the organizers of the Olympic security fair, NSO will not showcase intrusive surveillance equipment associated with numerous human rights abuses

The company’s infamous Pegasus spyware is used against journalists and human rights defenders

“Exhibition organizers shouldn’t turn a blind eye to journalists ‘and human rights activists’ cell phones hacking” – Sacha Deshmukh

“We have seen the scale of NSO’s Pegasus software attacks targeting countless citizens around the world including the UK” – Nabhan Al-Hanshi

The organizers of a major security fair due to be held in London this week have announced that controversial Israeli company NSO Group will not be allowed to display its intrusive “Pegasus” spyware equipment at the event – a promise made after Amnesty International came on the fair had been written by organizers to draw their attention to NSO’s track record.

NSO, which sells the spyware known to be used to facilitate large-scale human rights abuses around the world, was due to attend the International Security Expo 2021 at Olympia London Exhibition Center in west London from September 28-29.

In recent years, there have been numerous revelations that the NSO spyware Pegasus was used by intelligence agencies in buying countries to hack the mobile devices of large numbers of people, including journalists and human rights defenders.

Earlier this year, an extensive research revealed how around 50,000 people around the world were selected as a potential target by Pegasus, with at least 180 journalists in 20 countries selected as potential targets between 2016 and June 2021, as well as numerous human rights defenders and other activists. Since then, Amnesty has identified more individuals under attack by the spyware, indicating the ever-increasing levels of abuse related to NSO’s Pegasus spyware.

There is also evidence that family members of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi were attacked by Pegasus before and after he was murdered in 2018. Last week it was reported that traces of the spyware were found on the phones of at least five French cabinet ministers.

In the run-up to the Olympics fair, Amnesty UK CEO Sacha Deshmukh wrote to the organizers of the fair, Nineteen Group Limited, asking them to withdraw NSO’s invitation to the exhibition in order to prevent Pegasus spyware from spreading on the show Event is advertised. As the organizer of the event, the Amnesty letter stated, the Nineteen Group has a responsibility to avoid becoming involved in human rights abuses, including allowing goods known to be responsible for such violations to be placed on one promote their events.

After Amnesty’s letter was sent on Friday (September 24), Expo Press Office contacted Amnesty with a statement from the Nineteen Group stating: “The NSO Group will not be showing or promoting their Pegasus system during our events next week” . The Nineteen Group’s statement states that the company “does not comment on any news about our exhibitors’ business” while Nineteen works to “ensure that all participating companies and the products they showcase address current and emerging safety challenges”.

In addition to writing to the Nineteen Group, Amnesty has also written to the Department of International Trade that government enforcement teams “should take special measures to ensure that there are no unlicensed brokerage activities involving Pegasus spyware” at the show because ” acute risks associated with it “are associated with the spread of these goods”. The enforcement action is viewed by Amnesty as a stopgap before major changes are made to the rules governing the marketing and promotion of spyware at UK trade shows and by UK individuals or companies operating overseas. Amnesty is asking the DIT to reclassify spyware and related licensed goods and technologies as “Category A” within the current trade control system. Category A rules prohibit spyware from being offered for sale at UK events or from UK brokers.

The Olympic Show – which describes itself as the “flagship event, the government, industry, academia and the whole community responsible for regulation and procurement” of safety equipment and expertise is heavily supported by the UK, with numerous government agencies themselves exhibit on it. UK agencies listed as exhibitors alongside NSO on the Expo website include the Border Force, British Transport Police, Home Office’s Accelerated Capability Environment (ACE) project, Defense and Security Accelerators Team (DASA) Department of Defense and Security and UK Defense and Security Exports (UK DSE) inter-agency body.

Sacha Deshmukh, CEO of Amnesty International UK, said:

“We welcome this assurance from the Expo organizers that the NSO Group will not be allowed to advertise their infamous Pegasus spyware in London this week.

“As new cases continue to be uncovered, it is very clear that Pegasus spyware has been used against a staggering number of journalists and human rights defenders – as well as political leaders and government officials – around the world.

“A company at the center of a growing international scandal should never sell spyware at an event that presents itself as a mainstream security exhibition showcasing UK government equipment and expertise.

“Host governments and trade show organizers shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the hacking of journalists ‘and human rights activists’ cell phones.

“It is right to stop NSO from selling Pegasus at Olympia, but the rules for marketing and promoting spyware at UK trade shows and through UK brokers need to be changed as soon as possible.”

Nabhan Al-Hanshi, acting director of the London-based human rights NGO ALQST – whose founding director Yahya Assiri and late CEO Alaa Al-Siddiq were both targeted by Pegasus – said:

“We have seen the scale of NSO’s Pegasus software attacks targeting countless citizens around the world, including the UK.

“We are delighted that the company will no longer have a free hand to promote this gritty product at the show, but we continue to urge the UK government to heed calls from civil society and concerned citizens who say ‘No to NSO’ to until she acts. stop misuse of its software and call for more regulation of the cybersecurity industry as a whole. ”

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