Governments Should Decide Who Gets to Buy Spyware

And the world must face the fact that offensive cyber tools have evolved into weapons that are no different from tanks, drones, or missiles.

Following media accusations that Israel’s police misused NSO Pegasus spyware — which is able to closely monitor mobile phones — against its own citizens, including a state witness in the ongoing trial of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a government investigation recently determined that the police did nothing wrong and acted within the law.

What’s important here is not the outcome of the investigation itself but the fact that Israel investigated the police rather than NSO, a local company that also exports its products. But the police investigation appropriately underlines that the ethical burden of how these tools are used ultimately lies with their direct users and the governments that buy them — or allow them to be exported — and not on the vendors alone.

The same technology has come under fire for its use abroad, including allegedly being used to aid the Saudi government in its killing of columnist Jamal Khashoggi and to track dissidents in Mexico and the United Arab Emirates. In addition to receiving public criticism for how its product was used, NSO and another Israeli cyber company have also been blacklisted by the US government, which means American companies cannot sell technology to them. These moves show how some government administrators (and public opinion) are wrongly placing all of the blame for how spyware is used on the makers of the spyware itself. Read more:

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