Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Amnesty International’s bid to block spyware company NSO fails in Israeli court

July 15, 2020

Amnesty International’s bid to block spyware company NSO Group’s international export licence has been shut down in a Tel Aviv court, apparently due to a lack of evidence, reported several media, here in the New Statesman of 14 July 2020. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/17/has-nso-really-changed-its-attitude-with-regard-to-spyware/ ]

The case argued that the Israeli defence ministry should revoke the group’s export licence in light of numerous allegations that its phone-hacking Pegasus spyware has been used by governments (including Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and the UAE) to spy on civilians including an Amnesty International employee, human rights activists, lawyers and journalists..

The district court judge Rachel Barkai wrote in a statement that there was not enough evidence to “substantiate the claim that an attempt was made to monitor a human rights activist”. She wrote that in reviewing materials provided by the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she was persuaded that export licences were granted as part of a “sensitive and rigorous process”, and closely monitored and revoked if conditions were violated, “in particular in cases of human rights violations.”

Amnesty International decried the court’s decision. Danna Ingleton, acting co-director of Amnesty Tech, said in a statement: “Today’s disgraceful ruling is a cruel blow to people put at risk around the world by NSO Group selling its products to notorious human rights abusers. […] The ruling of the court flies in the face of the mountains of evidence of NSO Group’s spyware being used to target human rights defenders from Saudi Arabia to Mexico, including the basis of this case – the targeting of one of our own Amnesty employees.

NSO said: “Our detractors, who have made baseless accusations to fit their own agendas, have no answer to the security challenges of the 21st century. Now that the court’s decision has shown that our industry is sufficiently regulated, the focus should turn to what answer those who seek to criticise NSO have to the abuse of encryption by nefarious groups.”

The NSO Group is currently embroiled in another lawsuit brought by WhatsApp, which alleges that Pegasus spyware was used to hack more than a thousand of the messaging platform’s users. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/30/nso-accused-of-largest-attack-on-civil-society-through-its-spyware/]

https://tech.newstatesman.com/security/amnesty-international-nso-group-export-licence

European Court of Human Rights finds France violated freedom of expression of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists

June 13, 2020

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that France violated the freedom of expression of pro-Palestinian activists who were convicted of campaigning for a boycott of Israeli products and pressuring that country to end the occupation of Palestine.

The ruling refers to a 2009 French justice conviction against 11 activists from the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement for “economic discrimination” for protesting and distributing leaflets against Israeli products in a supermarket in eastern France.

BDS has called for boycotts against Israeli companies, universities and cultural institutions in what it says is a non-violent campaign against Israeli abuses in Palestine, while Israel claims that the movement masks attempts to delegitimize or destroy the Jewish state.

This important court ruling is a decisive victory for freedom of expression, for human rights defenders and for the BDS movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality,” said Rita Ahmad of the Palestinian-led movement. Most of the international community considers Israeli settlement in the West Bank illegal.

The ECHR ruling orders the French government to pay € 101,000 in general damages to the activists, as the criminal conviction “had no relevant and sufficient basis” and violated the freedom of expression of the protesters. The French government has three months to appeal the decision

Israel promotes a number of legislative initiatives against BDS abroad, particularly in the United States and Europe. The United States House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution last year condemning the boycott of Israel as detrimental to peace efforts. The German Parliament passed a resolution last year describing the movement’s methods as “anti-Semitic” and reminiscent of Nazi-era calls to boycott Jews. BDS activists deny the charges of anti-Semitism and say discrimination laws have been used to unfairly attack them. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/25/revoking-of-kamila-shamsies-dortmund-book-award-is-fiercely-contested/

Amnesty International expressed hope that the ruling “will send a clear message to all European states that they must stop the prosecution of peaceful activists.

https://www.explica.co/europes-top-human-rights-court-supports-boycott-movement-against-israel/

https://www.israelhayom.com/2020/06/12/european-court-rules-against-france-in-israel-boycott-activist-case/

NGOs express solidarity with Amnesty staffer Abu Zeyad

May 26, 2020

Emi Palmor’s selection to Facebook oversight board criticised by Palestinian NGOs

May 16, 2020

After reporting on the Saudi criticism regarding the composition of Facebook’s new oversight board [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/13/tawakkol-karman-on-facebooks-oversight-board-doesnt-please-saudis/], here the position of Palestinian civil society organizations who are very unhappy with the selection of the former General Director of the Israeli Ministry of Justice.

On 15 May 2020, MENAFN – Palestine News Network – reports that Palestinian civil society organizations condemn the selection of Emi Palmor, the former General Director of the Israeli Ministry of Justice, to Facebook’s Oversight Board and raises the alarm about the impact that her role will play in further shrinking the space for freedom of expression online and the protection of human rights. While it is important that the Members of the Oversight Board should be diverse, it is equally essential that they are known to be leaders in upholding the rule of law and protecting human rights worldwide.

Under Emi Palmor’s direction, the Israeli Ministry of Justice petitioned Facebook to censor legitimate speech of human rights defenders and journalists because it was deemed politically undesirable. This is contrary to international human rights law standards and recommendations issued by the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, as well as digital rights experts and activists which argue that censorship must be rare and well justified to protect freedom of speech and that companies should develop tools that ‘prevent or mitigate the human rights risks caused by national laws or demands inconsistent with international standards.’

During Palmor’s time at the Israeli Ministry of Justice (2014-2019), the Ministry established the Israeli Cyber Unit, ……….

Additionally, as documented in Facebook’s Transparency Report, since 2016, there has been an increase in the number of Israeli government requests for data, which now total over 700, 50 percent of which were submitted under ’emergency requests’ and were not related to legal processes. These are not isolated attempts to restrict Palestinian digital rights and freedom of expression online. Instead, they fall within the context of a widespread and systematic attempt by the Israeli government, particularly through the Cyber Unit formerly headed by Emi Palmor, to silence Palestinians, to remove social media content critical of Israeli policies and practices and to smear and delegitmize human rights defenders, activists and organizations seeking to challenge Israeli rights abuses against the Palestinian people.

 

NSO versus Whatsapp continues in court

May 5, 2020

WhatsApp logo is seen displayed on a smart phone screen on 11 December 2019 [Ali Balıkçı/Anadolu Agency]

WhatsApp logo is seen displayed on a smart phone screen on 11 December 2019 [Ali Balıkçı/Anadolu Agency]

The NSO Group has always maintained its innocence insisting that its spyware is purchased by government clients for the purpose of tracking terrorists and criminals and that it had no independent knowledge of how those clients use its spyware. This claim is contradicted by court documents in WhatsApp’s lawsuit filed last year against the Israeli firm. While bringing the lawsuit, WhatsApp said in a statement that 100 civil society members had been targeted and called it “an unmistakable pattern of abuse”. New documents seen last week indicate that servers controlled by NSO Group and not its government clients, as alleged by the Israeli firm, were an integral part of how the hacks were executed. “NSO used a network of computers to monitor and update Pegasus after it was implanted on users’ devices,” said WhatsApp, “these NSO-controlled computers served as the nerve centre through which NSO controlled its customers’ operation and use of Pegasus [software used to hack computers and phones].”NSO Group is also accused by WhatsApp of gaining “unauthorised access” to its servers by evading the company’s security features.

n the ongoing legal battle between Facebook and software surveillance company NSO Group, the social media giant is trying to get NSO Group’s legal counsel dismissed because of an alleged conflict of interest. In a court filing made public this week, Facebook asked a federal judge to disqualify law firm King & Spalding from representing NSO Group because the firm previously represented Facebook-owned WhatsApp in a different, sealed case that is “substantially related” to the NSO Group one. King & Spalding, an Atlanta-based firm with a range of big corporate clients, has denied there is a conflict of interest, according to the filing.“Any attorney defending this suit would love to have insight into how WhatsApp’s platform and systems work,” the court filing states. “And King & Spalding has that insight—because it was once WhatsApp’s counsel.”The dispute with Facebook is one of multiple legal battles currently facing NSO Group. Amnesty International is trying to get an Israeli court to revoke NSO Group’s export license in Israel, citing Pegasus’s alleged role in humans rights abuses. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/17/has-nso-really-changed-its-attitude-with-regard-to-spyware/]https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/06/nso-spyware-used-against-moroccan-journalist/

https://www.cyberscoop.com/nso-group-lawsuit-whatsapp-conflict-of-interest-king-spalding/

Israel’s NSO Group accused of ‘unmistakable pattern of abuse’ in hacking case

Dutch government critical of pro-Israel lobby “NGO Monitor”

January 17, 2020

Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok

The Israeli government’s attacks on human rights defenders are aided by organisations such as NGO Monitor, which in particular lobby European authorities to cease funding such human rights groups. The Dutch minister added that “the government is familiar with the accusations by NGO Monitor against a broad group of Israeli and Palestinian human rights organisations, as well as with criticism of the conduct of NGO Monitor itself”, citing a September 2018 report by the Policy Working Group. “This research shows that many of NGO Monitor’s accusations are based on selective citations, half-facts and insinuations, but not necessarily on hard evidence”, Minister Blok added. “These accusations have contributed to a climate in which human rights organisations have come under increasing pressure”. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/08/01/following-threats-to-ngo-offices-in-israel-human-rights-defenders-demand-investigation/]

In response to a separate question, the Dutch foreign minister noted that, “to the best of the government’s knowledge, NGO Monitor…focuses exclusively on organisations and donors who are critical of Israeli policy in the territories occupied by Israel”.

 

Dutch government criticises pro-Israel lobby group NGO Monitor’s ‘half-facts and insinuations’

Human Rights Watch’ Omar Shakir loses his appeal in Israeli Supreme Court

November 6, 2019

On 5 November 2019, the Israeli Supreme Court dismissed the appeal against the Jerusalem District Court’s decision to uphold a deportation order against Human Rights Watch (HRW) representative in Israel and Palestine, Omar Shakir, who is accused by the State of supporting the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement. The Court ruled that Shakir must leave the country in 20 days. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/18/israel-deportation-of-human-rights-watchs-staff-member-again-on-the-table/].  In the meantime his expulsion is immenent: https://imemc.org/article/human-rights-watch-director-expelled-today/

HRW stated “Omar Shakir’s Expulsion Would Send Chilling Message“. The Israeli NGO “Human Rights Defenders Fund” issued the following statment on the case:

The Court dismissed the claim raised by Shakir’s lawyers Michael Sfard and Emily Schaeffer Omer-Man, according to which he did not violate the law that authorizes the exclusion from Israel of those who call for or support boycotting Israel or an area under its control (Amendment no. 28 to the Entry into Israel Law, 2017). The Court also rejected a request to suspend proceedings until a new Israeli government is formed following the September elections and could consider whether to proceed with the deportation.

The constitutional claims raised in the appeal were not directly addressed by the Court, which stated that the constitutionality of Amendment no. 28 to the Entry into Israel Law will be examined in a separate petition currently pending before the High Court of Justice.

The Court further dismissed the claim that Shakir did not call to boycott Israel, but was merely fulfilling HRW’s long-held mandate in calling businesses not to contribute to human rights violations in the OPT. Head of the panel of judges, Justice Neal Hendel, adopted the State’s position and asserted that Shakir’s Tweets throughout the years, including the ones he posted on behalf of HRW regarding corporate responsibility in the OPT, all amount to active and consistent promotion of boycott activity.

One of the more disconcerting aspects of the Court’s decision is the conflation of Shakir’s independent activities prior to joining HRW with actions taken more recently in his capacity as a researcher at HRW, such as HRW reports shared on his social media, as indication that there is “enough evidence to show substantial, coherent and consistent involvement of Shakir in promoting boycott, in violation of the law.” 

The most disturbing component of the ruling is the Court’s holding that the law’s application extends to those who use boycott to promote the protection of human rights in the OPT, in accordance with international law:

“[…] the subjective aim of Amendment no. 28 […] validates that a call to boycott Israel may be included within the meaning of the law, even if its reasoning is founded on the protection of human rights or on the norms of international law. In fact, it seems that the possibility of disguising a call for boycott under a human rights discourse will devoid Amendment no. 28 of its content and harm its objective aim — fighting the boycott movement. These aims demonstrate that [the text of the law] is not only limited to boycott that is based on political opposition to Israel’s control of the territories, but also includes boycott that is based on the identification of the Israeli control in the territories as a violation of international law.”   
Following that statement, the Court held that since Shakir’s activity regarding corporate responsibility in the OPT is based on his entire opposition to the legitimacy of the Israeli settlements in the OPT, his work constitutes illegal support of boycott in violation of Israeli law.

In addition, the Court stated that HRW is not considered to be a “BDS organization” and reassured that its activity will not be harmed by the decision to deport one of his representatives. Furthermore, the Court dismissed the petitioners’ concerns by stating that the current decision will not affect other human right defenders and organizations who will want to enter Israel.

Nonetheless, HRDF views this ruling as a dangerous precedent that reflects the shrinking space for human rights advocates who defend human rights in the context of the occupation.

Following the decision, Adv. Sfard stated: “Today, Israel has joined countries like Syria, Iran and North Korea, who have also deported Human Rights Watch representatives in attempt to silence criticism against human rights abuses committed in their territory. The Supreme Court’s decision gives Israel a dangerous and anti-democratic veto power over the identity of the representatives of international organizations operating in Israel and in the OPT. Today they deport Omar, and tomorrow they will deport other representatives, foreign journalists and anyone who opposes the government policies in the occupied territories.”

Adv. Schaeffer Omer-Man added: “Today’s Supreme Court ruling not only lends legitimacy to Israel’s attempts to mask its disapproval of Human Rights Watch’s activities condemning settlement activity in the OPT by deporting Omar Shakir, but it threatens to deepen the already pervasive self-censorship by Palestinian and Israeli human rights defenders who are more vulnerable than ever to persecution for legitimate advocacy against Israeli violations of international law.”

Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth stated: “The Supreme Court has effectively declared that free expression in Israel does not include completely mainstream advocacy for Palestinian rights. If the government now deports Human Rights Watch’s researcher for asking businesses to respect rights as we do across the world, there is no telling whom it will throw out next.”
 
HRDF stands in solidarity with Omar Shakir and Human Rights Watch. The decision to deport Shakir on grounds of support for boycott is only one measure in the ever-growing efforts of the Israeli authorities in recent years to delegitimize human rights defenders, silence political expression and shut down the work of human rights organizations who report human rights abuses in the OPT.

The law on which the Court’s ruling relies is only one of a long line of legislation passed in recent years designed to delegitimize and sanction human rights defenders and organizations, block their funding, impose obstacles to their work, and create a chilling effect on Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights organizations.

The State’s and the Court’s insistence on separating Shakir’s work from HRW is artificial and its purpose is solely to conceal the harsh and far-reaching ramifications of this decision, which will enable the state to dictate and censor the work of human rights organizations who monitor and report human rights abuses in Israel and in the OPT. The international community must not be affected by this attempt to separate between HRW and its employee, Omar Shakir, as giving in to such tactics would harm the solidarity and support that all human rights defenders deserve.

(contact the HRDF team with any questions you might have: noa@hrdf.org.il)

———-

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/11/05/israel-supreme-court-greenlights-deporting-human-rights-watch-official

https://mailchi.mp/18f35a27e33d/update-israeli-supreme-court-dismisses-appeal-against-the-deportation-of-human-rights-watch-israel-and-palestine-director-omar-shakir?e=51113b9c0e

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/10/israel-opt-amnesty-staff-member-faces-punitive-travel-ban-for-human-rights-work/

Israel: deportation of Omar Shakir must be halted and the work of human rights defenders protected

 

NSO accused of largest attack on civil society through its spyware

October 30, 2019

I blogged about the spyware firm NSO before [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/17/has-nso-really-changed-its-attitude-with-regard-to-spyware/], but now WhatsApp has joined the critics with a lawsuit.

On May 13th, WhatsApp announced that it had discovered the vulnerability. In a statement, the company said that the spyware appeared to be the work of a commercial entity, but it did not identify the perpetrator by name. WhatsApp patched the vulnerability and, as part of its investigation, identified more than fourteen hundred phone numbers that the malware had targeted. In most cases, WhatsApp had no idea whom the numbers belonged to, because of the company’s privacy and data-retention rules. So WhatsApp gave the list of phone numbers to the Citizen Lab, a research laboratory at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, where a team of cyber experts tried to determine whether any of the numbers belonged to civil-society members.

On Tuesday 29 October 2019, WhatsApp took the extraordinary step of announcing that it had traced the malware back to NSO Group, a spyware-maker based in Israel, and filed a lawsuit against the company—and also its parent, Q Cyber Technologies—in a Northern California court, accusing it of “unlawful access and use” of WhatsApp computers. According to the lawsuit, NSO Group developed the malware in order to access messages and other communications after they were decrypted on targeted devices, allowing intruders to bypass WhatsApp’s encryption.

NSO Group said in a statement in response to the lawsuit, “In the strongest possible terms, we dispute today’s allegations and will vigorously fight them. The sole purpose of NSO is to provide technology to licensed government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to help them fight terrorism and serious crime. Our technology is not designed or licensed for use against human rights activists and journalists.” In September, NSO Group announced the appointment of new, high-profile advisers, including Tom Ridge, the first U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, in an effort to improve its global image.

In a statement to its users on Tuesday, WhatsApp said, “There must be strong legal oversight of cyber weapons like the one used in this attack to ensure they are not used to violate individual rights and freedoms people deserve wherever they are in the world. Human rights groups have documented a disturbing trend that such tools have been used to attack journalists and human rights defenders.”

John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at the Citizen Lab, said, “It is the largest attack on civil society that we know of using this kind of vulnerability.”

https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/whatsapp-sues-an-israeli-tech-firm-whose-spyware-targeted-human-rights-activists-and-journalists

https://uk.finance.yahoo.com/news/whatsapp-blames-sues-mobile-spyware-192135400.html

Has NSO really changed its attitude with regard to spyware?

September 17, 2019

Cyber-intelligence firm NSO Group has introduced a new Human Rights Policy and a supporting governance framework in an apparent attempt to boost its reputation and comply with the United Nations’ Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights. This follows recent criticism that its technology was being used to violate the rights of journalist and human rights defenders. A recent investigation found the company’s Pegasus spyware was used against a member of non-profit Amnesty International. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/19/novalpina-urged-to-come-clean-about-targeting-human-rights-defenders/]

The NSO’s new human rights policy aims to identify, prevent and mitigate the risks of adverse human rights impact. It also includes a thorough evaluation of the company’s sales process for the potential of adverse human rights impacts coming from the misuse of NSO products. As well as this, it introduces contractual agreements for NSO customers that will require them to limit the use of the company’s products to the prevention and investigation of serious crimes. There will be specific attention to protect individuals or groups that could be at risk of arbitrary digital surveillance and communication interceptions due to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, or their exercise or defence of human rights. Rules have been set out to protect whistle-blowers who wish to report concerns about misuse of NSO technology.

Amnesty International is supporting current legal actions being taken against the Israeli Ministry of Defence, demanding that it revoke NSO Group’s export licence. In January 2020 an Israeli court ordered a  closed door hearing.

Danna Ingleton, Deputy Program Director for Amnesty Tech, said: “While on the surface it appears a step forward, NSO has a track record of refusing to take responsibility. The firm has sold invasive digital surveillance to governments who have used these products to track, intimidate and silence activists, journalists and critics.”

CEO and co-founder Shalev Hulio, counters: “NSO has always taken governance and its ethical responsibilities seriously as demonstrated by our existing best-in-class customer vetting and business decision process. With this new Human Rights Policy and governance framework, we are proud to further enhance our compliance system to such a degree that we will become the first company in the cyber industry to be aligned with the Guiding Principles.

https://www.verdict.co.uk/nso-group-new-human-rights-policy/

https://www.ynetnews.com/article/HJSNKJAeU

Following threats to NGO offices in Israel, human rights defenders demand investigation

August 1, 2019

On Wednesday, death threats were found spray-painted outside the offices of Amnesty International in Tel Aviv and ASSAF, an organization which advocates for refugees and asylum seekers in Israel. (Photo: @AmnestyIsrael/Twitter)

Human rights defenders in Israel linked recent threats at three civil society organizations to the rhetoric and policies of the country’s government, which has worked to intimidate and suppress groups critical of its treatment of Palestinians and other marginalized people. Staff members at Amnesty Israel in Tel Aviv and the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel (ASSAF) on Wednesday found death threats written in spray paint on walls outside the organizations’ offices. A box containing death threats and a dead mouse was found around the same time at the Elifelet Children’s Activity Center, which cares for refugee children.

“We have filed a complaint with the police and we see this as the result of the ongoing campaign of incitement against aid and human rights organizations, led by the government,” tweeted Amnesty Israel. Amnesty International denounced the threats as “deplorable and malicious acts” which must be investigated and unequivocally condemned by the government.

The Israeli authorities should take a strong stand by publicly condemning these acts and making clear that attacks against NGOs will not be tolerated,” said Philip Luther, the group’s research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa. “The Israeli authorities must also take steps to ensure that human rights defenders and civil society organizations more generally are effectively protected and can carry out their work free from threats, intimidation, or harassment.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/18/israel-deportation-of-human-rights-watchs-staff-member-again-on-the-table/ ]

…………”This is not the first time we are being threatened,” ASSAF wrote in a post on Twitter. “This is the result of the ongoing incitement campaign against aid and human rights organizations in Israel—with the encouragement and backing of politicians and public figures.” “You have to make sure this is the last time,” the group added, addressing authorities.