Apple sues Israel’s NSO Group accused of spying

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images Image caption NSO Group denies wrongdoing

Apple has filed an unusual lawsuit against an Israeli company accused of selling surveillance software to oppressive regimes to tap into encrypted phones.

The technology firm NSO Group is accused by US authorities of monitoring Chinese dissidents on two Chinese-made phones.

Apple said it was seeking an injunction and damages from a company it called “a world leader in unfair and deceptive business practices”.

Israeli news website Haaretz said it had been suspended.

Israel-based NSO Group has declined to comment.

Apple takes issue with what it alleges is NSO Group’s “sale of invasive surveillance software that drains the lifeblood of millions of innocent people”.

In the lawsuit, filed in a California court, Apple said it had never seen or authorised the company to obtain information on its customers.

“NSO’s wide-scale threat marketing effectively prevents tech companies, journalists, human rights advocates, government officials, and anyone else from successfully protecting themselves from unlawfully obtaining personal information,” Apple said.

The Cupertino, California-based tech giant also said the software aimed to make it “impossible for law enforcement and other legal entities” to investigate serious crimes.

According to the lawsuit, the Israeli spyware company sells the ability to locate, track and read secret SMS messages, and grab screenshots from mobile devices in mass quantities.

It is also being accused of providing software to spy on the phones of users in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, China, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, and Sudan.

The US government accused NSO Group in 2015 of selling a firm called Pegasus to an unnamed state-owned Chinese firm that sold “illegal surveillance tools” to Beijing.

The company’s role in this case has not been previously disclosed, but New York prosecutors named it in a federal complaint in March that accused the Chinese firm of spying on dissidents.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Apple has been accused of failing to comply with the rule of law

Haaretz reported that NSO Group had “suspended” its website after Apple filed its lawsuit.

The site said it was unclear how long the suspension would last, but added that it might continue until an “amicable agreement” was reached.

NSO Group is one of Israel’s most successful start-ups and considered a contender for a possible sale to Facebook, which has recently acquired firms operating in the field.

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