The US government is restricting the use of commercial spyware tools that have been used to spy on human rights defenders, journalists and dissidents around the world, according to an executive order issued Monday by President Joe Biden.
The executive order responds to concerns in the United States and other parts of the world about software that can capture text messages and other phone data. Some software, called “no-click”, can infect a phone without requiring the user to click on a malicious link.
Governments around the world, including the United States, are also known to collect large amounts of data for intelligence and policy-making purposes, including the communications of their citizens. The proliferation of commercial spyware has made powerful tools already available to smaller nations, but it has also created what researchers and human rights advocates warn are opportunities for abuse and surveillance.
The White House released an executive order ahead of the second Democratic summit this week. The executive order “demonstrates America’s leadership and commitment to technology that promotes democracy, including the misuse of commercial spyware and other surveillance technologies,” the White House said in a statement.
Biden’s order, which calls for a ban on the use of commercial spyware “that poses a threat to national security,” allows for some exceptions.
The order will require the head of any US agency using commercial software to indicate the software does not pose a significant counterintelligence or security risk, the senior official said.
Among the factors that will affect the security risk is whether a foreigner uses software to monitor US citizens without legal authority or monitors human rights defenders or other dissidents.
“It is intended to be a big sign, but it also includes corrective measures that can be taken… where the company can argue that its tool is not being misused,” said the official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity. The house rules.
The White House will not issue a list of banned software as part of the executive order, the official said.