Supreme Court rejects ‘immunity’ claim by Israeli spyware company at center of WhatsApp lawsuit

Supreme Court rejects ‘immunity’ claim by Israeli spyware company at center of WhatsApp lawsuit

The Supreme Court rejected a request by an Israeli spyware company claiming immunity from a lawsuit filed by Meta, which owns Facebook and WhatsApp, alleging that the hacker company illegally installed spyware on WhatsApp in 2019.

In April 2022, NSO Group Technologies asked the Supreme Court to grant the company immunity because it “acted on behalf of the state” according to NSO’s request for a certificate. The petition was rejected by the Supreme Court on Monday without explanation, according to the Supreme Court’s order list. (RELATED: US Designated Senior Terrorists Exploit Twitter Spaces to Promote Violence)

A spokesperson for Meta told the Daily Caller News Foundation that it was “grateful” that the Supreme Court rejected “NSO’s baseless petition.”

“NSO’s spyware has enabled cyber attacks targeting human rights activists, journalists and government officials,” the spokesperson said. “We are convinced that their operations violate US law and they must be held accountable for their illegal operations.”

Meta archived one trial against NSO in 2019, alleging that the Israeli company violated the Data Fraud and Abuse Act after it used the “Pegasus” spyware to gain access to over 1,400 WhatsApp users’ accounts and conduct surveillance, according to the lawsuit. Some of the account holders included “lawyers, journalists, human rights activists, political dissidents, diplomats and other senior foreign officials.”

This photographic illustration shows a smartphone with the website of Israel’s NSO Group, which contains the “Pegasus” spyware, on display in Paris on July 21, 2021. (Photo by JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images)

“The defendant knowingly accessed and without permission altered and used the plaintiff’s data, computer, computer system and computer network to (a) devise and execute a scheme and artifice to defraud and defraud, and (b) wrongfully control and obtain money, property and data in violation of California Penal Code,” the lawsuit said.

NSO claims to create technology used by government agencies to prevent terrorism, organized crime and aid in natural disasters, but is best known for its Pegasus spyware, according to the company’s website. Additionally, the company’s products are only available for use by government and law enforcement agencies and claimed that European authorities were conducting an investigation into an Islamic terrorist during the WhatsApp hack.

“In May 2019, WhatsApp notified 1,400 users that their mobile devices may have been accessed by public actors using Pegasus,” NSO claimed. “WhatsApp’s alert ‘killed’ a major investigation by European authorities into an Islamic State terrorist who had used WhatsApp to plan an attack.”

The NSO’s request for immunity was also rejected by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, according to NBC News. The Supreme Court’s decision will send the lawsuit back to the US District Court of Northern California.

An NSO spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation that the company was “confident” that the use of Pegasus would be legal after further review by the courts.

“Meta has repeatedly impeded law enforcement’s ability to lawfully investigate criminals’ use of WhatsApp to commit serious crimes and acts of terrorism,” the spokesperson said. “We are confident that the court will find that the use of Pegasus by their customers was lawful.”

Meta, WhatsApp and the Supreme Court did not respond to DCNF’s request for comment.

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