Tech Giants Support Facebook in Case Against Spyware Maker

Microsoft, Google, Cisco and a host of other tech giants have added their names to a legal filing supporting Facebook’s case against controversial spyware developer NSO Group.

The social network took the Israeli firm to court after alleging that the latter exploited a vulnerability in WhatsApp which helped its clients spy on over 1400 users globally. It’s believed that the bug or similar ones may also have been used to help Saudi Arabian officials spy on murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi and his former boss, Jeff Bezos.

NSO Group has argued that its tools are only ever used for legitimate law enforcement purposes, and that, as it sells exclusively to governments, it should benefit from the “sovereign immunity” that means nation states can’t be taken to court.

The case is now at the Court of Appeals after Facebook won the argument in the Northern District of California in July.

That’s where the latest amicus brief filing comes in: it shows support for Facebook’s position from a wide range of tech firms, including rivals. As well as those listed above, the signatories also include lobby group the Internet Association, which counts among its members tech firms including Amazon, Twitter, PayPal, eBay, Uber and Reddit.

Microsoft’s VP of customer security and trust, Tom Burt, argued that NSO Group’s actions should not be granted legal immunity for three reasons.

He claimed that the firm’s tools could end up in the wrong hands, as per the Shadow Brokers hack that resulted in NotPetya and WannaCry, if sophisticated attackers decide to target NSO Group itself, or its government customers.

He also argued that, unlike governments which are bound by international laws and diplomatic norms, private companies like the Israeli firm are only motivated by profit.

Finally, Burt argued that these tools threaten human rights, despite NSO Group’s protestations to the contrary, by expanding the range of autocratic regimes that can access sophisticated spyware.

“Reporting shows foreign governments are using those surveillance tools, bought from PSOAs [private sector offensive actors], to spy on human rights defenders, journalists and others, including US citizens,” he added.

“These tools allow the user to track someone’s whereabouts, listen in on their conversations, read their texts and emails, look at their photographs, steal their contacts list, download their data, review their internet search history and more.”

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