A group of 86 human rights organizations and independent experts Friday urged the European Union to impose “targeted sanctions” against the NSO Group, an Israeli company producing the Pegasus surveillance software linked with human rights abuses.
The signatories cited investigations by the Front Line Defenders, Forbidden Stories and Citizen Lab that exposed how governments across the world were using Pegasus to infiltrate and snoop on journalists, activists, and opposition members. They said that NSO facilitates this pattern of human rights abuses through spyware sales to abusive governments resulting in persecution of civil society and social movements in countries around the world.
They argued that the EU’s global human rights sanction regime under Council Decision CFSP 2020/1999 allows it to adopt targeted sanctions against entities deemed to be responsible for human rights abuses that are of “serious concern as regards the objectives of the common foreign and security policy.” These include violations of freedom of peaceful assembly, of association, and of opinion and expression. Further, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression has demonstrated that surveillance through spyware by authoritarian governments can enable arbitrary detentions, forced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings.
Signatories demanded that the EU “urgently put NSO on its global sanction list and take all appropriate action to prohibit the sale, transfer, export, import and use of NSO Group technologies, as well as the provision of services that support NSO Group’s products.”
Calling the spyware industry “out-of-control,” Deborah Brown at the Human Rights Watch said targeted sanctions are necessary to close the EU’s business with NSO Group and add international pressure against the company to adopt adequate safeguards for human rights.
Last month, the US Department of Commerce added the NSO Group to its trade restrictions list for “activities contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.”