Eighty-six NGOs and experts have called on European Union foreign ministers to sanction the Israeli technology firm the NSO Group and ban the sale and use of its spyware Pegasus.
In an open letter published on 3 December and addressed to EU foreign ministers, the NGOs and experts demanded the European Commission follow the example of the United States, which on 3 November blacklisted the NSO Group for "engaging in activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States".
In July a consortium of media outlets revealed that the Pegasus spyware was used extensively by several governments to spy on lawyers, journalists, political opponents and human rights activists.
Several victims of illegal surveillance were identified in Hungary, where the government initially denied being a client of NSO Group, before admitting to having purchased the software.
According to the signatories, including Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders and Electronic Frontier Foundation, the EU human rights sanctions regime would allow it to adopt targeted sanctions against entities deemed responsible for violations or abuses.
European law allows to target entities responsible for serious abuses with regards to foreign and security policy, including violations or abuses of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, or of freedom of opinion and expression, it said.
"These rights have been repeatedly violated using NSO technology," the letter says.
Several European 'customers'
The US State Department blacklist drastically limited the business relationships the company could have with US customers or suppliers.
In Europe, several investigations are underway, but no sanctions have yet been decided.
In addition to Hungary, several other countries are, or have been, customers of NSO Group – although this does not mean that all of these countries have made illegal use of Pegasus.