A trial centering on accusations that tools designed by the infamous spyware maker NSO Group were used to spy on a Canadian-born Saudi dissident is moving forward and it’s happening in an open forum.
The man, Omar Abdulaziz, might be familiar to people who followed the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. According to a report in The Guardian, Abdulaziz exchanged messages with Jamal Khashoggi prior to his death.
The NSO Group focuses on building spyware tools, identifying zero-day exploits, and selling them to states interested in surveilling its citizens. In fact, this is the entire basis of the trial brought by Abdulaziz against NSO Group, which claims that its tools, going by the name Pegasus, were used by Saudi authorities to intercept his communications.
Abdulaziz is not the first to sue NSO Group, but this is the farthest a trial has advanced against the company. Israeli judge Guy Hyman rejected the companies’ request for dismissal and went even further, allowing public hearings even though important security issues could be discussed in open court.
“The scope is very broad, especially in matters of the roots of constitutional values and fundamental rights,” said the judge. “The ruling, therefore, in my view, must be public.”
Abdulaziz seeks 600,000 shekels (approx. $173,000) in damages. The NSO Group didn’t want to comment on the trial and appealed the court’s decision to move further with the trial.
NSO’s official position is that it licenses its technologies, and it’s not their responsibility for how they are used. “NSO’s technology is only licensed, as a lawful solution, to government intelligence and law enforcement agencies for the sole purpose of preventing and investigating terror and serious crime,” said an NSO spokesperson.