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Human Rights Watch: Spyware from Israeli Company Used to Hack Senior Staffer


FILE - A logo adorns a wall on a branch of the Israeli NSO Group company, near the southern Israeli town of Sapir, Aug. 24, 2021.

A senior staff member of Human Rights Watch had her phones hacked with spyware developed by an Israeli technology company that the United States says was “maliciously” used to target activists, journalists and other people of interest.

HRW said in a statement Wednesday the spyware from NSO Group Technologies, an Israeli company the U.S. said has helped authoritarian governments commit human rights abuses, was used to target the regional director of its office based in Lebanon

The director, Lama Fakih, oversees the organization’s crisis response in several countries, including Syria, Israel, Afghanistan Myanmar, Ethiopia and the U.S. HRW said her cellphones were hacked five times last year.

Fakih’s work “includes documenting and exposing human rights abuses and serious international crimes during armed conflicts, humanitarian disasters, and severe social or political unrest,” HRW said. “This work may have attracted the attention of various governments, including some that are suspected NSO clients.”

Fakih said her phones were hacked while she was overseeing HRW’s coverage of the fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and a probe into the deadly explosion at a Beirut port in 2020. But she added there was no way to determine if the hacks were related to her work.

NSO did not directly respond to HRW’s hacking allegations, but the organization did call for an “international regulatory structure” for cyber intelligence tools. NSO’s statement also said any calls to suspend the technologies until a structure has been established would help criminals who evade other forms of surveillance.

The U.S. prohibited NSO from gaining access to American technology last year after alleging the company’s tools had been used by repressive governments. U.S. technology giants Apple and Facebook have sued NSO in response to its hacks of their products.

A group of U.S. lawmakers asked the State and Treasury departments last month to sanction four foreign firms, including NSO, which is best known for its Pegasus spyware.

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