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Government cannot verify Pegasus export claims

Government cannot verify Pegasus export claims

by Yannick HANSEN 2 min. 19.10.2021 From our online archive
Foreign minister had written to Israeli spy software entities operating in Luxembourg, reminding them of their human rights duties
NSO Group
NSO Group
Photo credit: AFP

Luxembourg is unable to verify claims by Israeli spyware company NSO that it has never exported its controversial software used to spy on French President Emmanual Macron and others from the Grand Duchy, Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said on Tuesday.

The NSO Group, which also operates through layers of corporate structures in Luxembourg, is best known for its spyware Pegasus that Saudi Arabia used to spy on journalist Jamal Khashoggi before his murder in 2018.

In July this year, Asselborn conceded that NSO has nine units in Luxembourg, after first saying he was aware of only two 'back offices', showing how opaque business structures may allow companies to operate out of the public view.   

The NSO Group said in a confidential letter that they only export their spyware from Israel with the consent of the Israeli government, Asselborn told lawmakers in parliament on Tuesday, but that he could not prove that.

"Of course, I cannot verify this, but according to the statements of the group, they abide by all the procedures in force in Israel", Asselborn said.

The government will increasingly use an EU regulation, in force since September, that seeks to control the export of dual-use goods - items that can be used for both civilian and military applications, Asselborn also said.

The Israeli company responded to letters Asselborn had sent to its nine Luxembourg entities in July, reminding them of their legal obligations and human rights duties after a global investigation into the Pegasus spyware alleged that government leaders, dissidents, journalists and human rights advocates across the world had been potentially targeted.

NSO have repeatedly said that governments use its software to fight terrorism and serious crimes such as human trafficking and that they would take any allegation of misconduct seriously.

Justice minister Sam Tanson, who was also present in parliament, defended the general use of spyware, saying it was essential in the fight against terrorism and organised crime. She did not say whether Luxembourg's police or security services used Pegasus or any other such spyware, but emphasised that surveillance in Luxembourg only takes place under very limited circumstances - in the fight against terrorism or acts against state security.

The debate was started by Marc Goergen of the Pirate Party to force the government to show what spyware Luxembourg is using.

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