Jerusalem (AFP) – The former head of the NSO Group confirmed his departure from the Israeli spyware company on Tuesday, but said his resignation had been planned for months and had nothing to do with the controversy surrounding the company.
Asher Levy said he tendered his resignation last summer after changes in ownership. He added that he was still on good terms with what he called a “big company” and would continue to offer his assistance.
“I can understand why people are making contact,” he told The Associated Press. “It really has nothing to do with breaking news, so to speak, about NSO.”
NSO has faced increasing scrutiny over its flagship Pegasus software, which can seamlessly infiltrate a mobile phone and allow its operators to access device content and location history. Confirmed targets included Mexican and Saudi journalists, British lawyers, Palestinian human rights activists, and US diplomats based in Uganda.
In November, the US Department of Commerce added NSO to its blacklist, banning it from using certain US technologies, arguing that its tools had been used in “cross-border repression”.
Global technology companies Facebook and Apple have filed lawsuits against NSO over the hacking of their products.
NSO says it sells Pegasus to governments solely for the purpose of fighting crime and terrorism. All sales require approval from the Israeli Ministry of Defense. While NSO has said it has measures in place to prevent abuse, it acknowledges that it has no control over how customers use its product and that it has no access to the data they collect. He says he terminated several decades due to improper use of Pegasus.
Days ago, the Israeli business daily Calcalist published a series of articles alleging that the Israeli police used Pegasus without proper approval to monitor Israeli targets, including political activists. Police denied misusing the product, but the Israeli attorney general opened an investigation into the case last week.
On Tuesday, Calcalist reported that Levy left NSO “amid ongoing turmoil.”
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