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Malinowski says U.S., Israel, other democracies should work to restrict technologies like NSO’s Pegasus

The New Jersey congressman sharply criticized NSO but said the problem extends well beyond Israel

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP

Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) participates in a news conference in the Capitol on Jan. 29, 2018.

Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), the vice chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a former assistant secretary of state, told Jewish Insider on Wednesday that the U.S. must work with allies, including Israel, to prevent the abuse of technologies such as the NSO Group’s Pegasus software.

Recent reports revealed that authoritarian regimes, including Saudi Arabia, Rwanda and Kazakhstan, used the Israel-based NSO Group’s Pegasus hacking software to spy on journalists and activists. Any foreign sales of the software must be approved by Israel’s Defense Ministry.

“I do think this needs to be addressed diplomatically,” Malinowski said.

Brett McGurk, a top Middle East adviser to the Biden administration, reportedly discussed the issue with a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official last week. But Malinowski emphasized that he sees the issue as much broader than NSO or Israel, viewing it as a multinational problem that needs to be addressed both at home and abroad.

“The United States can’t tell Israel to prevent its companies from proliferating spyware if we, the United States, don’t have similar rules,” Malinowski said. “So it’s not a conversation where we blame the Israeli government or ask them to take upon themselves the burden of solving this problem. It’s a conversation where we say there need to be rules that apply to all of us.”

Malinowski, along with Reps. Katie Porter (D-CA), Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Joaquín Castro (D-TX) released a statement earlier this week demanding stricter oversight and regulation of the “hacking for hire” industry and proposing specific penalties for NSO and other companies engaging in similar behavior, including blocking them from conducting initial public offerings in the U.S.

“I was disturbed, but not surprised,” Malinowski said of the revelations about NSO. “I’ve been concerned for some time about the completely unregulated ‘hacking for hire’ industry that has emerged in recent years. The NSO Group is just one example. This is not really a story about one company from one country.”

“What the NSO Group did was perfectly legal,” he added. “My point is that it shouldn’t be. And that’s on us to fix.”

Malinowski told JI that democracies like the U.S., Israel and European allies need to establish rules for “hacking for hire” companies and should not allow technologies like Pegausus to be given to authoritarian and anti-democratic regimes. 

“Much of this technology is the product of collaboration between intelligence and national security agencies in Western democracies and private industry. My argument is that that’s where it needs to stay,” he said. “The United States needs to get together with our allies and put in place some rules to ensure it can’t happen again.”

These weaponized technologies, he said, should be treated similarly to exports of weapons systems like drones and missiles.

“Bottom line is we should not be allowing the proliferation of sophisticated hacking technology to dictatorships that we know are going to use it against journalists, political activists and, ultimately, Americans,” Malinowski said.