Facebook’s chat platform WhatsApp has launched a lawsuit against an Israeli cyber surveillance firm, ironically claiming it helped governments in over a dozen countries (other than the US) to access users’ private data.
Filed in a US federal court on Tuesday, the new suit alleges a Tel Aviv-based tech developer, NSO Group, provided the tools used to hack over 1,400 WhatsApp users earlier this year – most shockingly including “activists, lawyers, journalists and diplomats” – in what the chat service called an “unmistakable pattern of abuse.”
In a passionate statement by a genuinely disturbed spokesperson, the US-based company has called for a permanent injunction barring NSO from accessing its computer systems, as well as those of Facebook, its parent firm.
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.
Though its complaint singles out Mexico, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, WhatsApp says NSO worked with ‘repressive’ governments and ‘undemocratic’ intelligence agencies in 20 countries to facilitate the hacks, which exploited the platform’s video chat service to secretly access devices.
The Israeli firm denied the accusation “in the strongest possible terms,” and vowed to “vigorously fight” the hypocritical lawsuit, saying there was nothing criminal in cooperating with lawful authorities around the globe.
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.
Facebook itself is no stranger to serious data breaches and allegations of spying on its vast platform, with the Federal Trade Commission slapping the tech giant with an unprecedented $5 billion fine over privacy violations earlier this year. The company has also come under scrutiny in Europe for snooping on users and sharing data, including in Germany, Belgium, France and in one of the EU’s highest courts.
American and other western officials have repeatedly called on Facebook to go even further in its data sharing practices, pleading with the company to provide governments free access to its encrypted messaging platforms and solidify itself as a defacto arm of intelligence agencies. While Facebook – whose founder once referred to users as “dumb f**ks” for trusting their private data to him – has vehemently declined such a preposterous, the company’s principled dedication to privacy remains questionable.
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