States pledge to clamp down on spyware abuse after joint civil society letter
A group of 46 civil society organisations, including ALT Advisory, issued a joint letter to global leaders calling for states and tech investors to protect citizens against spyware, including through a ban on the sale of spyware, ahead of last week’s Summit for Democracy.
The Summit, organised by the United States, Costa Rica, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, and Zambia, focused on a range of civic issues, including measures to counter the misuse of technology, protect civic space, and defend human rights defenders.
However, the joint letter called for states to prioritise greater protections against spyware, citing the need to safeguard human rights in the digital age. The joint letter called for states to ban the sale of spyware until there are sufficient safeguards to prevent human rights abuses, and urged states to hold companies and investors liable for their negative human rights impacts. The letter urged states to develop comprehensive human rights due diligence and transparency requirements for investors.
On 31 March 2023, following the Summit for Democracy, a group of 11 states issued a pledge to establish new safeguards to ensure that any commercial spyware used by government is consistent with human rights and the rule of law. They also committed to preventing the export of software and technology to end-users who are likely to use them for malicious cyber activity. The signatories included the governments of Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, France, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
United States President Joe Biden also signed an executive order which bars the US government from using certain commercial spyware, including those that pose risks to national security or which have been linked to human rights abuses by foreign governments. However, a New York Times investigation published on 2 April 2023 revealed a secret US contract with Israeli spyware manufacturer NSO Group which may be in violation of the executive order.
- The civil society joint letter is available here.
- Updates from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre are available here.