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March 28, 2023updated 29 Mar 2023 4:49pm

US government banned from using spyware like Pegasus

The order comes as it was revealed evidence of spyware has been found on the devices of 50 US government officials.

By Claudia Glover

President Joe Biden has signed an executive order to restrict the use of spyware by the United States government. The restrictions are designed to curb the unrestricted use of surveillance technology, and have been introduced as it was revealed 50 US government employees have been compromised by spyware

The Executive Order comes ahead of a summit involving heads of state from the Netherlands and the Republic of Korea. (Photo by Ron Adar/Shutterstock)

The order comprises a series of restrictions spyware must adhere to in order for its sale to be allowed, including not posing a security risk to the US government.

President Biden restricts the use of spyware by US government

The executive order was signed yesterday and comes ahead of tomorrow’s Second Summit for Democracy, which will be attended by leaders of Costa Rica, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea and the Republic of Zambia.

It is designed to counter misuse of the software, which “poses significant counterintelligence or security risks to the United States Government” and “significant risks of improper use by a foreign government or foreign person,” according to the White House.

The most high-profile spyware on the market is Pegasus, created by the Israeli company the NSO Group. It has allegedly been used to illegally listen in on conversations in the UK government, via remotely accessing the then prime minister’s phone. The Spanish and Polish governments also found evidence of the NSO spyware on key devices belonging to its MPs. 

It has also been revealed that 50 US government workers, based in America and overseas, have been compromised by spyware, a much large number than previously thought.

The US Department of Commerce placed restrictions on digital surveillance tools in 2021, while four companies were added to the “entity list” and banned from doing business in the US in the same year for their part in the spyware industry.

John Scott Railton, researcher at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, sees these changes as a step in the right direction for the industry. He told CBS News: “Most spyware companies see selling to the US as their eventual exit path,” he said. “The issue is the US until now hasn’t really wielded its purchasing power to push the industry to do better.”

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Read more: Google calls for tighter regulation of Pegasus spyware

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