Salah Hammouri sues NSO Group

A tablet displays the NSO Group logo

Israeli spyware firm NSO Group faces a number of lawsuits from tech giants and others targeted with its malware.

Omar Marques SOPA Images / ZUMA Press Wire

Salah Hammouri, an acclaimed Palestinian-French human rights defender, and two human rights groups have filed a criminal complaint against the notorious Israeli spyware company NSO Group.

Hammouri, 36, is an attorney with the prisoners’ rights group Addameer, one of six Palestinian human rights groups designated by Israel as “terrorist” in October.

Hammouri, along with five other people from these organizations, had their phones hacked by the firm’s signature software Pegasus.

The joint complaint was filed in France by Hammouri along with the International Federation for Human Rights and the Ligue des droits de l’homme.

Hammouri’s phone was hacked in April 2021, while he was in the occupied West Bank.

The violation continued on French soil, according to the International Federation for Human Rights, constituting “a violation of the right to privacy under French law.”

Once successfully installed – which can now be done even with a simple missed Skype call – Pegasus can extract a staggering amount of data from target devices, including pictures, texts, passwords, emails and recordings, remotely and without the permission or knowledge of the targeted user.

Therefore, by hacking Hammouri’s phone, those doing the spying infiltrated “his entire professional and private life, thereby depriving him of his right to privacy among others,” the International Federation for Human Rights said.

Israeli authorities have targeted Hammouri since he was a teenager. He has endured years of harassment, imprisonment and travel bans by Israel.

A Jerusalem native, Hammouri has lived most of his life in the city. But Israel has sought to deport him to France, stripping him of his permanent residency in October for “breach of allegiance” to his occupier.

Israeli occupation forces arrested Hammouri from his home last month and he remains imprisoned as of this writing.

In early March, an Israeli military court extended his initial administrative detention – or detention without charge or trial – by three months. Administrative detentions can be renewed indefinitely.

“A few days before the first round in the [French] presidential election, in a context marked by large-scale mobilization against the Russian occupation of Ukraine, the outgoing president [Macron] is staying silent in the face of this new aggression against our compatriot,” a committee to support Hammouri said in a statement.

“Instead of demanding his unconditional release, the Elysée is begging the Israeli authorities to explain why they have arrested him,” they added.

“It is deeply cynical because France knows perfectly well that the Israeli wish is for Salah Hamouri to leave his homeland.”

These attacks “seem to be aimed solely at punishing him for his legitimate human rights activities, in particular in support of Palestinian political prisoners,” the International Federation for Human Rights stated.

iPhone hacked after Apple lawsuit

Hammouri’s case is not the only one. It follows several lawsuits and complaints filed against NSO Group for its software being used against human rights defenders, journalists and politicians.

Apple sued NSO Group last November after numerous expert analyses concluding that its software was used to target Apple users.

It joins fellow tech giants, Microsoft and Meta, which owns WhatsApp and Facebook, that have also taken legal action against the company. The US government has also got in on the act. In November last year, the US blacklisted NSO Group for making software for “malicious” uses.

But the hacking continues. Just this month, an investigation by Citizen Lab revealed that four Jordanians had been hacked by NSO Group software, including one whose iPhone was hacked even after Apple sued the Israeli firm.

The phone of opposition activist Ahmed al-Neimat was hacked at least once in or around January 2021. Al-Neimat has been arrested multiple times over his activism and again last month, and remains in prison as of this writing.

Al-Neimat’s lawyer, Malik Abu Orabi, was hacked multiple times between 2019 and 2021, according to Citizen Lab.

The phone of Suhair Jaradat, a human rights defender and journalist, was hacked at least six times throughout 2021.

A fourth journalist, who chose to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, was also hacked at least twice.

Citizen Lab said it was able to identify two operators of the spyware, which it believes “are likely agencies of the Jordanian government.”

This follows a report by the Access Now and Frontline Defenders groups earlier this year that determined Jordanian lawyer Hala Ahed Deeb’s phone had also been infected with Pegasus, along with the phone of Bahraini human rights defender Ebtisam Al-Saegh.

Does Jordan have access to NSO Group spyware?

This is not the first time the Jordanian government has been suspected of having access to NSO Group technology.

In April 2021, Israeli journalist Barak Ravid revealed that NSO Group had been in negotiations with Jordanian officials on a possible transaction, citing unnamed sources purportedly briefed on the matter.

The negotiations began in late 2020. A delegation from NSO traveled to the kingdom to present products for collecting intelligence and monitoring messaging platforms to officials, including those in the intelligence directory.

Ravid was told by one source that a deal had been signed, while another said it was unclear if anything was finalized.

An NSO Group spokesperson neither confirmed or denied that the transaction took place to Ravid.


Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.