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Israel cuts down list of countries allowed to import cyber tech products in the wake of Pegasus

While India has been retained, the updated list drops countries that have long been suspected to be Pegasus buyers.

Amid mounting international pressure to restrict the sale of spyware, Israel has more than halved the list of approved countries that can do business with local cyber tech companies, according to a report by Israeli newspaper Calcalist. The list has been slimmed down to 37 countries from 102, and India still figures on it.

In a statement to the newspaper, the Ministry of Defense refused to “specify its policy for supervising defense exports” but said that it constantly reassesses them and only allows the export of cyber products to countries where it would be used for fighting crime and terror.

There have been calls to regulate the spyware industry ever since it was revealed that multiple governments across the world, including India, used Israel-based company NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to target political leaders, journalists, human rights activists, businessmen, military officials, intelligence agency officials, and several others.

Full list of countries that can still buy Israeli cyber tools

According to the report, the list was updated early in November which has been reproduced below. Interestingly, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, Rwanda – which have reportedly used Pegasus- no longer feature in it.

  • Austria
  • Italy
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Estonia
  • Bulgaria
  • Belgium
  • United kingdom
  • Germany
  • Denmark
  • The Netherlands
  • Greece
  • Luxembourg
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Liechtenstein
  • Malta
  • Norway
  • Slovenia
  • Slovakia
  • Spain
  • Portugal
  • Finland
  • Czech Republic
  • France
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Romania
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Australia
  • India
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • South Korea
  • United States
  • Canada.

Recap: What is the Pegasus controversy?

In July, reports published by a global consortium of news organisations revealed that nearly 50,000 people across the world may have been targetted by Pegasus, a type of spyware that gains extensive access to smartphones through zero-click exploits. Among the 50,000, 300 Indian citizens were potentially surveilled including opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, poll strategist Prashant Kishor, Union Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, among several other journalists, activists, bureaucrats, and businessmen.

Internationally, the long list of possible Pegasus victims featured the names of French President Emmanuel Macron, European Council President Charles Michel, and Pakistan PM Imran Khan to name a few.

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In India, the Supreme Court has instituted an expert committee to look into allegations of the Indian government’s use of the spyware. The next hearing on the matter is scheduled to be in January 2022.

NSO faces mounting scrutiny after Pegasus revelations

NSO Group blacklisted in the US: Earlier this month, the US Department of Commerce added four foreign companies (including NSO) to the Entity List for ”engaging in activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States”. The department explained the sophisticated tools sold by these companies helped foreign governments to “conduct transnational repression, which is the practice of authoritarian governments targeting dissidents, journalists and activists outside of their sovereign borders to silence dissent.”

Israel government raids NSO offices: Several government officials visited the office of the NSO Group in July, according to a statement from Israel’s Ministry of Defense. The Ministry reportedly said that it would review the allegations of misuse of the NSO’s surveillance software while hinting at a possible “review of the whole matter of giving licences”.

Senior UN and EU officials condemn Pegasus surveillance: “Any indication that intrusion of privacy actually occurred needs to be thoroughly investigated and all responsible for a possible breach have to be brought to justice,” EU Commissioner Didier Reynders told MEPs at the start of a debate in the European parliament on the Pegasus spyware scandal, according to The Guardian. Meanwhile, UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet called for a moratorium on the “on the sale and transfer of surveillance technology.”

UNHCR faces pressure to investigate NSO: In September, a letter addressed to participating members of the 48th UN Human Rights Council asked them to investigate the use of the Pegasus spyware. It was jointly signed by 95 civil society organisations and independent experts.

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I cover health technology for MediaNama, among other things. Reach me at anushka@medianama.com

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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