Press note: Release of report "Operating from the Shadows: Inside NSO Group’s Corporate Structure"
In this briefing, PI together with Amnesty International and SOMO seek to aid civil society efforts toward greater oversight, accountability and remedy of corporate structures that have been reported to contribute to government surveillance of individuals, including human rights defenders.
Amnesty International, Privacy International and The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) have published a report uncovering NSO Group’s entire corporate structure, tracking the global money trail of both public and private investment into the lucrative spyware company.
Amnesty International and other rights groups have documented dozens of cases of NSO Group’s products being used by repressive governments across the world to put activists, journalists, and opposition figures under surveillance, causing a devastating chilling effect on civil society.
By shining a light on the workings of the company, Amnesty International, Privacy International and SOMO hope to highlight the human rights risks and corporate dynamics that characterize the broader surveillance industry, and to support civil society in their efforts to seek accountability for abuses.
- Money from major private equity firms Novalpina Capital and Francisco Partners, with numerous investors behind them, has bankrolled NSO Group. Commitments to implement reforms and ensure NSO Group is complying with human rights standards remain unfulfilled.
- Pension funds in the UK and US have a stake in the surveillance company. This includes the South Yorkshire Pensions Authority and East Riding Pension Fund in the United Kingdom as well as the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System and Alaska Permanent Fund Corp in the United States.
- NSO Group’s maze-like structure has given the company legal and regulatory advantages in various jurisdictions to help facilitate investment, operation, and growth. It has at various points set up holding companies and/or operating entities in the British Virgin Islands, Bulgaria, Cayman Islands, Cyprus, Israel, Luxembourg, United Kingdom, and the United States of America. It exports products from Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Israel.
- Governments are failing to pass robust domestic laws to ensure surveillance companies such as NSO Group respect human rights, are transparent about their business and held accountable for any alleged misuse of their products.
- The NSO Group’s long-standing resistance to disclose essential details about its operations, including sales and human rights impacts, has provided the surveillance industry a template on how to avoid transparency.
NSO Group and the rest of this pernicious surveillance industry are leaving activists terrified of speaking out for fear the government is watching their every move. Governments in Israel, Europe and the United States need to stop shirking responsibility and implement a moratorium on the sale and transfer of surveillance equipment until a proper human rights regulatory framework is put in place.
Ilia Siatitsa, Acting Legal Director, Privacy International
Novalpina Capital’s promises of openness and transparency ring hollow when the return on their investment entirely depends on the spyware giant staying in the shadows. Both Novalpina Capital and Francisco Partners have shown that they are willing to pour money into a toxic asset that profits off the abuse of our freedoms.
Danna Ingleton, Deputy Director, Amnesty Tech
We hope this report provides some of the much-needed transparency for targets and victims of NSO Group’s spyware tools to know where and who to go to for accountability and justice. Countering the glaring lack of transparency is one step in loosening the chokehold on civil society’s efforts to seek justice from the surveillance industry, which has enjoyed years of impunity.
Roberta Cowan, Senior Research, The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO)