WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) – The US Supreme Court on Monday rejected an attempt by an Israeli spyware maker to throw out a lawsuit brought by the WhatsApp messaging service.
The judges upheld lower court rulings against Israeli firm NSO Group. WhatsApp claims that NSO directed highly sophisticated spyware to around 1,400 users of the encrypted messaging service.
Meta Platforms Inc., which owns WhatsApp and Facebook, seeks to block NSO from Facebook platforms and servers and recover unspecified damages.
NSO argued that it should be recognized as an agent of a foreign government and therefore entitled to immunity under US laws that limit lawsuits against countries. The petition appeals a pair of previous federal court rulings that rejected similar arguments from the Israeli company.
US President Joe Biden’s government recommended that the court dismiss the appeal. The Justice Department wrote that “NSO is clearly not entitled to immunity here.”
NSO’s flagship product, Pegasus, allows operators to covertly infiltrate a target’s mobile phone, gaining access to messages and contacts, cameras and microphones, and location history. According to NSO, only law enforcement government agencies may purchase the product and all sales must be approved by Israel’s Ministry of Defense. The company does not reveal who its customers are.
WhatsApp ensures that at least 100 users related to its demand are journalists, rights activists and civil society members. Critics have pointed out that NSO’s customers include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Poland, and that such countries have misused the software to spy on opponents and crack down on dissidents.