Novalpina Capital, which holds over half of the shares in Israeli company NSO Group, has said that it will do everything required of it in order to ensure that it does not violate human rights. In a letter sent to human rights organization Amnesty International, Novalpina said that it was "determined to do whatever is necessary to ensure that NSO technology is used for the purpose for which it is intended - the prevention of harm to fundamental human rights arising from terrorism and serious crime." The letter was signed by Novalpina partner Stephen Peel. NSO develops surveillance software.
Amnesty International this week petitioned the Tel Aviv District Court to order the Israel Ministry of Defense to revoke NSO's export license, following an attempt to gain control over a telephone device belonging to one of its employees using NSO's Pegasus software. Pegasus, NSO's flagship product, can be used to gain control over telephone devices that it has penetrated, gather information on them, and turn them into wiretapping, recording, and spying devices without their owners' knowledge.
NSO has been associated with a series of affairs in which it was revealed that its software had been used to spy on journalists, human rights activists, and opponents of tyrannical regimes. NSO used the WhatsApp communications app to put its surveillance software on telephones.
The report is based on a disclosure by WhatsApp itself, which early this month revealed that attackers were capable of utilizing a weakness in order to install surveillance software on iPhones and Android devices through its voice call feature. On Tuesday, WhatsApp contacted the US Department of Justice on the matter, and according to Reuters, notified human rights organizations that NSO was likely responsible for the exploitation of this breach.
According to sources quoted in "The Financial Times," half of NSO's revenue comes from Middle Eastern countries. University of Toronto researchers found that the software had been used in 45 countries, including Bahrain, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates, none of which is known for respecting human rights. Israeli law permits weapons exports to these countries, but if Novalpina fulfills its promises and refrains from selling surveillance software to regimes that violate human rights, it will probably affect its NSO's revenue.
NSO founders Shalev Hulio and Omri Lavie acquired control of the company from Francisco Partners in February for an estimated $1 billion, with support from Novalpina. In the letter sent to Amnesty International, Novalpina declared that it controlled NSO's board of directors and held two thirds of the shares of NSO's holding company. The letter was part of an exchange of letters between Novalpina and Amnesty International in recent months, in which Novalpina expressed its commitment to observing the UN principles on human rights.
Amnesty International said in a statement in response to the statement from Novalpina Capital: "We note the response from NovalPina and their stated commitment to upholding human rights and bringing NSO in-line with human rights principles. However, according to their own letter, Israeli law and policy seem to represent a fundamental obstacle to genuine reform: the MOD and DECA have not transparently addressed these problematic exports, and have refused to take action on export licenses that have clearly resulted in human rights abuses and the MOD must be forced to enforce existing law on NSO.
"NSO have again and again demonstrated their intent to avoid responsibility for the way their software is used, and without direct involvement of the Israeli MOD and DECA, we cannot expect them to conform to NovalPina's commitment. We sincerely hope that this letter from NovalPina is not an attempt to spin the narrative. We hope the petition filed on the 14th is successful and call on the authorities to make sure that NovalPina's commitment result in a change in NSO's conduct."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on May 16, 2019
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