Ten Members of Parliament have submitted a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, calling on the UK government to follow in the footsteps of the Biden administration and blacklist the Israeli spyware firm, NSO Group.
Earlier this year, evidence was discovered of the Israeli spyware ‘Pegasus’ – supposedly intended for use only by governments and intelligence bodies – allegedly being misused by foreign governments to target a number of individuals. Those targeted include British academics, human rights lawyers, members of the House of Lords, and Gulf activists living as refugees in the UK.
The letter to Boris Johnson and his government, coordinated by Bindmans LLP client Sayed Alwadaei, Director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), cites these cyberattacks as a threat to our national security and a breach of domestic and international human rights law. MPs argue that as a result, the UK government should end its cybersecurity programmes with countries that are known to have used NSO spyware to target those on British soil, and impose trade sanctions on NSO Group. So far, countries suspected to be implicated in these cyberattacks are the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
Signatories of the letter also highlight the UK government’s failure to publicly condemn the actions of NSO Group in any way, following the Amnesty International Security Lab investigation into a leaked batch of 50,000 telephone numbers, which was carried out in collaboration with Forbidden Stories earlier this year.
As mentioned on page two of the letter, we are currently instructed by a group of nine claimants, including Sayed Alwadaei, to investigate potential claims into the alleged misuses of NSO Group’s Pegasus malware.
Sayed Alwadaei, Director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, commented:
It is difficult to describe the pain of knowing that NSO’s malicious spyware may have put my family, loved ones and those who trusted me to defend their human rights at risk. I am equally shocked that abusive states like Bahrain and the UAE have been allowed to illegally hack critics without any censure from the UK government. The US has taken action and blacklisted this dangerous organisation; Boris Johnson should follow their example by sanctioning NSO and halting exports of surveillance equipment to abusive Gulf states.
Monika Sobiecki, Partner in the Media and Information Law team at Bindmans LLP, who is representing Sayed and other Claimants, said:
MPs and individual activists who have been caught up in these events have had to pressure the UK government to take action and investigate these serious incursions into our democracy. Whilst we at Bindmans will seek to hold those responsible accountable through the legal process, it is for the UK government to step forward and take the initiative in order to stop the export of surveillance spyware and hold a public inquiry into the matter.
To find out more about the case or to support the claimants to this challenge, visit the CrowdJustice fund here.