Supreme Court Rejects NSO Group’s Petition to Block WhatsApp’s Lawsuit Against it

WhatsApp’s legal case, in which the company is accusing the Israeli spyware developer NSO Group of widespread phone hacking, won’t be prevented from proceeding by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 2019, Meta-owned WhatsApp first filed a suit against NSO Group, claiming the Israeli spyware maker exploited an audio-calling vulnerability in WhatsApp to deliver its Pegasus phone spyware onto users’ devices covertly.

The Pegasus spyware is a highly advanced surveillance tool that gives its government customers near-complete access to the target’s device, including their photos, emails, messages, personal data, and granular location data.

According to the lawsuit, Pegasus compromised over 1,400 devices belonging to activists, journalists, and government officials. The spyware, ostensibly licensed to governments looking to spy on targets of investigations, exploits zero-day vulnerabilities to bypass security.

NSO Group responded to the lawsuit by filing a petition to dismiss it in April last year. The company argued that it shouldn’t be held liable for its actions as it claimed to have been acting on behalf of a foreign government.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected this claim of sovereign immunity, which is the idea that a government can not be sued after it was previously dismissed by a California district court and later by the U.S. Appeals Court for the Ninth Circuit.

As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, the case will now be sent back to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

NSO Group spokesperson Liron Bruck stated that the company is “confident” that the court will conclude that the use of Pegasus by its customers was lawful.

WhatsApp spokesperson Carl Woog also commented that they’re grateful that Supreme Court rejected NSO’s request without merit, adding that NSO Group should be held responsible for their illegal activities.

The NSO Group also has a lawsuit from Facebook to contend with

WhatsApp’s lawsuit against it isn’t the only legal battle the NSO Group has on its plate.

After the ‘ForcedEntry’ zero-day exploit, Apple also filed a lawsuit against the company, seeking a permanent solution that would block the spyware maker from using any Apple service or product – a move that would impair the possibility of the NSO Group operating on Apple devices.

Last November, journalists from an investigative news outlet based in El Salvador filed a lawsuit against the NSO Group after discovering Pegasus spyware on their phones.

The journalists are being represented by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which positively reacted to the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday. Carrie DeCell, a senior staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute, has said,

We’re pleased that the Supreme Court rejected NSO Group’s petition. Today’s decision clears the path for lawsuits brought by the tech companies, as well as for suits brought by journalists and human rights advocates who have been victims of spyware attacks

She further went on to say,

The use of spyware to surveil and intimidate journalists poses one of the most urgent threats to press freedom and democracy today.

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