- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Facebook was sued Tuesday by several employees of NSO Group, an Israel cybersecurity firm on the opposite end of a civil suit brought by the social networking company last month.

Lawyers representing NSO Group employees filed the latest suit in Tel Aviv after Facebook recently disabled the plaintiffs’ personal accounts amid a legal fight now on two fronts.

Facebook sued NSO Group in California last month in connection with the Israeli company allegedly using WhatsApp, a Facebook-owned encrypted messaging app, to send malware meant to decipher the communications of certain users.

In the latest lawsuit, past and present NSO Group employees allege that their personal accounts on both Facebook and its sister service Instagram were abruptly disabled without prior notice recently over their connection to the Israeli company — “collective punishment” according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

“Facebook decided, barbarously and unilaterally, to block the applicants’ private accounts, just because the company they work or previously worked for was sued by Facebook,” the NSO Group employees’ attorneys said in Hebrew.

The lawsuit also alleges that Facebook violated its own policies and Israel privacy law by seemingly misusing the personal information provided by the defendants in order to identify them as past of present NSO Group employees.

They have petitioned the Tel Aviv District Court to have Facebook unblock their accounts.

Facebook did not immediately respond to an inquiry from The Washington Times.

“In October we filed a legal complaint which attributed a sophisticated cyber attack to the NSO Group and its employees that was directed at WhatsApp and its users in violation of our terms of service and U.S. law,” Facebook told Vice in a statement.

“Such actions warranted disabling relevant accounts and continue to be necessary for security reasons, including preventing additional attacks,” Facebook’s statement said.

Established in 2010, NSO Group is best known for marketing surveillance software, or spyware, designed to covertly collect data from targeted smartphones. Its customers include governments and law enforcement agencies, and researchers have previously found its products in use by repressive regimes with poor human rights records.

Facebook previously said in its lawsuit filed in San Francisco federal court was initiated after NSO Group used WhatsApp servers “to send malware to approximately 1,400 mobile phones and devices,” without authorization and in violations of WhatsApp’s terms of service.

Among those allegedly targeted on WhatsApp included “attorneys, journalists, human rights activists, political dissidents, diplomats, and other senior foreign government officials,” Facebook said in its lawsuit last month. Clients of the company include government agencies in the Kingdom of Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Mexico, Facebook’s lawsuit noted.

NSO Group has previously denied Facebook’s allegations of wrongdoing.

“The sole purpose of NSO is to provide technology to licensed government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to help them fight terrorism and serious crime,” NSO Group said in a statement last month. “Our technology is not designed or licensed for use against human rights activists and journalists. It has helped to save thousands of lives over recent years.”

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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