Supreme Court refuses to block WhatsApp lawsuit over NSO phone hacking

Supreme Court refuses to block WhatsApp lawsuit over NSO phone hacking

The US Supreme Court has declined to block a lawsuit brought by WhatsApp challenging the alleged mass phone hacking of Israeli spyware maker NSO Group.

Meta-owned WhatsApp first filed a lawsuit against NSO Group in 2019, claiming the spyware maker exploited an audio call vulnerability in WhatsApp to stealthily deliver Pegasus spyware to users’ devices. Pegasus gives its public customers almost complete access to a target’s device, including their personal data, photos, messages and detailed location data.

More than 1,400 devices belonging to journalists, activists and government officials were compromised by Pegasus, according to the lawsuit.

NSO Group filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit last April, arguing that it could not be sued because it was acting on behalf of a foreign government. That claim of so-called sovereign immunity was rejected by the US Supreme Court on Monday, after it was previously rejected by a California district court and later by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The case will return to the US District Court for the Northern District of California.

In a statement, Liron Bruck, a spokesperson for NSO Group, said the company is “confident” that the court will determine that the use of Pegasus by its customers was legal. WhatsApp spokesperson Carl Woog told TechCrunch that the company was “grateful to see the Supreme Court dismiss NSO’s baseless petition” and that NSO “must be held accountable for their illegal operations.”

The WhatsApp case is among a series of legal battles that have plagued NSO Group recently. Apple also filed a lawsuit against the spyware maker, seeking a permanent injunction to block the spyware maker from using any Apple product or service — a move designed to make it harder for the company to operate.

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In November, journalists from an investigative news agency in El Salvador also sued NSO in a US court after Pegasus spyware was discovered on their iPhones. Those journalists are represented by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which on Monday welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision.

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court rejected NSO Group’s petition. “Today’s decision clears the way for lawsuits filed by the technology companies, as well as lawsuits filed by journalists and human rights activists who have been victims of spyware attacks,” said Carrie DeCell, senior attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute. “The use of spyware to monitor and intimidate journalists poses one of the most pressing threats to press freedom and democracy today.”

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