REPRESENTATIVES TOM MALINOWSKI, KATIE PORTER, JOAQUIN CASTRO, AND ANNA ESHOO APPLAUD CONGRESSIONAL PASSAGE OF THE “NSO BLACKLIST” TO COUNTER THE HACKING FOR HIRE INDUSTRY

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WASHINGTON DC: Representatives Tom Malinowski (NJ-07), Katie Porter (CA-45), Joaquin Castro (TX-20), and Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18) issued the following statement today on the passage this week in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of the first-ever legislation targeting private companies selling surveillance technologies to dictatorships.

“This week, Congress passed legislation requiring the U.S. government to publish a blacklist of companies that have sold hacking and spyware technologies to governments that abuse human rights. The new law, Section 5502 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), compels the State Department to send Congress an annual report listing companies that have ‘facilitated a cyber attack or conducted surveillance’ directed by human rights-abusing governments against ‘activists, journalists, opposition politicians,’ and other vulnerable individuals.

Recent years have seen a boom in commercially marketed spyware and surveillance software sold to governments with a history of human rights abuse and even genocide. One company, NSO Group, reportedly sold their spyware to governments such as Saudi Arabia, Uganda, or Rwanda—where it was used against journalists, activists, persecuted minorities, and even American diplomats. NSO Group’s Pegasus software was also reportedly used by Saudi Arabia to track Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi prior to his premeditated murder in a Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.   

We applaud the Biden administration for identifying the proliferation of spyware as a threat to U.S. interests, and for placing the NSO Group, Candiru, Positive Technologies, and other companies on the Commerce Department’s Entity List, cutting them off from American goods and know-how — a step we have previously requested. In the future, any companies included in the blacklist should, in coordination with the Director of National Intelligence and other federal agencies, be considered for inclusion on the Entity List. No company should be sharing sensitive surveillance technology with governments in countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, China, or Belarus, and those that do should be held accountable.

As reported this week in the Wall Street Journal, the planned placement of Chinese facial recognition giant SenseTime on the Entity List likely resulted in its withdrawal from a planned IPO. Without the entity listing of SenseTime, American investors could have inadvertently become complicit in this company’s business linked to crimes against humanity against Chinese Muslims in Xinjiang. 

In the same way, this new blacklist — if it spurs appropriate enforcement action — will reassure Americans that their 401Ks, pension funds, and investments are not propping up companies like SenseTime or NSO Group that sell spyware to dictatorships. We urge the State Department to fully and faithfully implement this new law in coordination with Congress. Doing so will demonstrate that the Biden administration meant what it said when it committed to protecting freedom and democracy from modern digital surveillance.”

Reference

  • Rep. Malinowski amendment creating the blacklist during Foreign Affairs Committee consideration of the State Department Authorization Act (Malinowski amendment #30 to H.R. 3352)
  • November 5 statement on NSO Group’s addition to the Entity List can be found here
  • November 5 letters to Commerce Secretary Raimondo and Secretary of State Blinken urging further policy action on threats from digital surveillance
  • July 26 statement on NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware can be found here

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