US defense contractor L3Harris is in talks to purchase surveillance technology from the NSO Group. If the deal is signed, it will give L3Harris control over the highly sophisticated and highly controversial Pegasus hacking tool, writes The Guardian.
Pegasus is a spyware for smartphones that is compatible with iPhone and Android devices. It can be deployed remotely, after which it gives the customer access to data and sensors of the target smartphone, including: location data, texts, emails, social media messages, files, camera and microphone. All the client of NSO Group needs is to start deploying Pegasus is to enter the target’s phone number in the tool.
According to sources, the talks are aimed at transferring key NSO technology and the possible transfer of its staff to L3Harris. However, there are many obstacles to the agreement. In particular, it will need approval from the US and Israeli governments. The NSO is regulated by the Israeli Ministry of Defense, so the company will have to deal with many of the country’s personnel and technology issues.
If the deal is signed, it will be an unexpected step. Less than a year ago, the Biden administration blacklisted the NSO and accused it of actions “contrary to the interests of foreign policy and national security of the USA”.
The White House has stated that it is not involved in the negotiations. The government stressed that the agreement would entail intensive scrutiny of threats to US security and broad human rights implications.
“Such a transaction, if it were to take place, raises serious counterintelligence and security concerns for the US government,” said one of the high-ranking White House officials.
It is known that government NSO clients used surveillance technology aimed at journalists, human rights activists , high-ranking officials, lawyers and other “inconvenient” people around the world. Influential media also reported how the Pegasus from the NSO was used to track American citizens. NSO hacking technology will strengthen the set of tracking tools owned by L3Harris, which have already been sold to customers from the US government and law enforcement agencies. The contractor’s clients also include NATO and the FBI.
Naturally, the agreement caused outrage among human rights activists. They are concerned that the tool will be used by US police departments and will be a major threat to civil liberties.