On February 24, 2022, the Knight Institute filed a FOIA lawsuit seeking records concerning “spyware,” including spyware developed or provided to U.S. government agencies by NSO Group.
NSO Group’s signature spyware product, called “Pegasus,” can reportedly infect a smartphone undetected to give the spyware’s operators essentially full control of the device—allowing them to extract contact lists, calendar entries, messages, and locations, and also to enable a device’s microphone and camera. NSO Group has apparently sold Pegasus to more than forty governments around the world, several of which have reportedly used Pegasus to persecute journalists, dissidents, human rights advocates, and activists.
Although the Biden administration has placed NSO Group on an export-control list, multiple U.S. agencies appear to have communicated or contracted with the company. The FBI purchased and tested a version of Pegasus in 2019, and employees of multiple other agencies reportedly communicated with NSO Group or its U.S. affiliate about the possible purchase of spyware tools. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice has reportedly considered whether the government’s use of spyware would violate U.S. law. To learn more, the Knight Institute filed a FOIA request for records concerning government contacts and possible contracts with NSO Group, and for any memoranda addressing the use of spyware by the government.
Agencies Involved: Central Intelligence Agency, Department of the Army, Department of Justice, National Security Agency, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Status: Complaint filed on February 24, 2022.
Case Information: Knight First Amendment Inst. at Columbia Univ. v. CIA, No. 1:22-cv-01542 (S.D.N.Y.).