Tech giants file “friend of the court” brief that describes the Israeli firm as a menace.
Tech giants including Microsoft and Google joined Facebook’s legal battle against hacking company NSO, according to Reuters. The firms filed an amicus brief in federal court that claimed NSO’s tools were “powerful, and dangerous.”
The friend of the court brief was filed before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The filing serves to open up a new front in Facebook’s lawsuit against NSO, which it filed last year. Facebook’s original suit came after having discovered that NSA had exploited a bug in Facebook-owned instant messaging program WhatsApp. The exploit helped the Israeli cybersecurity firm to surveil more than 1,400 people worldwide.
NSO has argued that it should benefit from “sovereign immunity” – a legal doctrine that generally insulates foreign governments from lawsuits. They say this because they sell digital break-in tools to police and spy agencies worldwide. NSO made a similar argument and lost in the Northern District of California in July. Following that loss, the firm appealed to the Ninth Circuit in a bid to have the ruling overturned.
Tech firms dispute NSO’s claim to “sovereign immunity”
Microsoft, Google, Cisco, Dell Technologies-owned VMWare and the Washington-based Internet Association have joined forces with Facebook to argue against overturning the ruling. They claim that awarding sovereign immunity to NSO would lead to a proliferation of hacking technology and “more foreign governments with powerful and dangerous cyber surveillance tools.”
Such a proliferation would in turn create “dramatically more opportunities for those tools to fall into the wrong hands and be used nefariously,” the brief argues.
Reuters reports that NSO did not immediately return a message seeking comment. However, they have generally argued that their products are used to fight crime, and not spy.
Nonetheless, human rights defenders and technologists at places such as Toronto-based Citizen Lab and London-based Amnesty International have documented cases in which NSO technology has been used to target reporters, lawyers and even nutritionists lobbying for soda taxes.