Supreme Court Refuses to Halt Lawsuit Against Israeli Spyware Maker

Supreme Court Refuses to Halt Lawsuit Against Israeli Spyware Maker
The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Dec. 4, 2022. (Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images)
Matthew Vadum

The Supreme Court on Jan. 9 allowed Facebook parent Meta to move forward with a lawsuit claiming that Israeli spyware maker NSO Group improperly accessed WhatsApp servers as it was installing spyware on the electronic devices of some users.

NSO Group had asked the high court to halt the lawsuit in the petition filed in NSO Group Technologies Ltd. v. WhatsApp Inc., court file 21-1338. The Supreme Court declined to do so in an unsigned order, without explaining its decision.

In addition to encrypted instant messaging company WhatsApp, Meta Platforms Inc., its parent company and the parent company of Facebook, is listed as a respondent in the appeal.

NSO Group had argued it can’t be sued because it was acting on behalf of foreign governments, which it didn’t identify. It has also claimed in court filings that some WhatsApp users are “violent criminals and terrorists who exploit the software’s encryption to avoid detection.”

The underlying lawsuit will now proceed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

WhatsApp alleged that NSO Group installed sophisticated spyware on the electronic devices of about 1,400 of its users, according to a fact summary by The Associated Press.

NSO Group’s Pegasus product permits operators to clandestinely probe a target’s mobile phone, accessing contacts and messages, along with location history, microphones, and contacts. The company said it sells the product only to law enforcement agencies and that all sales have to be cleared by Israel’s Defense Ministry. Purchasers’ names are kept confidential. The company says it has policies to stop abuses from taking place but can’t guarantee abuses won’t take place.

WhatsApp claimed that a minimum of 100 of the affected users are journalists, activists, and civilian members of the public. Critics claim NSO Group clients Poland, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia have abused the software.

U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar urged the court not to take the case. NSO Group isn’t a state entity and no foreign governments advised the U.S. Department of State that the company was acting for them, she wrote in a brief.

“NSO plainly is not entitled to immunity here,” the brief stated.

NSO Group is also being sued in separate lawsuits, according to the AP. Apple is suing NSO Group, claiming Pegasus has been used against some iPhone users. Journalists in El Salvador claim to have found Pegasus installed on their iPhones.

The Epoch Times reached out for comment to NSO Group attorney Jeffrey Bucholtz of King and Spalding, WhatsApp and Meta attorney Michael Dreeben of O’Melveny and Myers, and the U.S. Department of Justice but hadn’t received a reply from any as of press time.