NSO Group President Defends Controversial Tactics

Firm defends controversial business offerings, claims it should be considered a force of good.

In a rare public appearance by Shiri Dolev, the president of the secretive NSO Group Technologies, the company leader vented over what she called “false myths” about the firm. Dolev also took indirect aim at secure messaging platforms, offered by the likes of Facebook, explaining surveillance companies may soon have to step in where law enforcement companies can’t.

NSO Group is an Israeli technology firm known for its controversial Pegasus spyware, which enables remote surveillance of smartphones. In October, Facebook subsidiary WhatsApp sued NSO Group for creating tools allegedly used by its clients for reading the protected WhatsApp messages of journalists and human rights workers.

Speaking at the tech conference Mind the Tech in Tel Aviv, earlier this week, Dolev said, “Terrorists and criminals use the social platforms and apps we all use every day as a vehicle for terrorism and crime.” She said that key to circumventing the use of end-to-end secure messaging platforms by criminals was to access “critical information which is hidden in secure apps.”

“Unfortunately, protecting privacy for normal people allows criminal and terrorists to hide in the dark. You need to look at a needle in a haystack and do it on time, while maintaining privacy,” Dolev said.

In its battle with the Facebook, workers at the NSO Group filed a lawsuit against the social media behemoth on Tuesday in a Tel Aviv District Court, claiming the company had unfairly blocked their private Facebook and Instagram accounts and those of close family members.

Fighting “False Myths”

“We wish we could respond to what’s being published about us in the media, but we can’t reveal our customers or the things they do,” Dolev said.

In court filing, Facebook accuses the NSO Group of helping government spies break into the phones of roughly 1,400 users and “hacking” the handsets of targets that included diplomats, political dissidents, journalists and senior government officials.

“I wish we could introduce you to the people who work for us because then the gap would be clear,” she said. “If we could tell you about the captured pedophiles, about the prevented terrorist events” then the media discourse about NSO Group would change, she said.

She also claimed that NSO helped authorities locate victims following with the collapse of Tel Aviv parking lot last year and after the Brumadinho dam tragedy in Brazil, in which nearly 250 people died, but “unfortunately you did not see this.”

“There are many negative myths about us,” she said. “We do not operate the technology, we are not a spy company, we do not sell to anybody and we are not exposed to customer intelligence.”

Short on Sympathy

In response to Dolev’s address, Amnesty International Israel took to Twitter stating, “Instead of talking about the topic of the conference, the NSO director utilizes the stage given to her, to rescue NSO’s shocking image.”

Amnesty International is supporting a legal action to take the Israeli Ministry of Defense to court to demand that it revokes the export license of NSO Group.

“We will not read interim calls, but will meet Ms Dolev in court along with the Ministry of Defense,” Amnesty said in a tweet.

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