Earlier this year, the New York Times revealed that the US government had purchased and used spyware created by Israeli hacking firm NSO Group. This spyware, Pegasus, can discreetly hack into mobile phones and download personal information without the user's knowledge.
In March 2022, President Biden signed an executive order banning the use of commercial spyware like Pegasus by US government agencies. However, a new NYT report has revealed that the FBI continues to use NSO Group's Landmark tracking software to track suspects in Mexico.
The FBI claimed it was misled by the private contractor Riva Networks, who failed to disclose they would be using NSO software. Riva Networks provided location tracking services to the FBI to help track drug cartels in Mexico. Even after the March executive order, the FBI reportedly used Landmark as recently as this year before terminating the contract with Riva Networks.
The FBI now says it used the tool unwittingly and that Riva Networks misled the bureau. Once the agency discovered in late April that Riva had used the spying tool on its behalf, Christopher A. Wray, the FBI director, terminated the contract, according to U.S. officials.
This is not the first time the FBI has had ties to NSO Group's controversial spyware tools. Before the ban, the FBI considered utilizing Pegasus for domestic criminal investigations within the US.
NSO Group and its spyware products have faced widespread criticism for enabling government surveillance and suppressing political dissent globally. In 2021, at least nine iPhone devices belonging to U.S. State Department employees were spied on by NSO-backed spyware.
The software has been used numerous times to target government officials, journalists, business people, activists, academics, and embassy workers. Apple, on the other hand, sued NSO Group for spying on its customers.
The latest revelations that the US government continued to use these tools raise concerns about the proliferation of unregulated spyware.