US to impose visa curbs on people misusing spyware to target journalists, activists. Here’s all you need know

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The Biden administration has recently announced that it will impose visa restrictions on foreigners engaged in the wrongful use of commercial spyware. The initiative that aims to address privacy concerns targets those who misuse such technology to surveil journalists, activists, dissidents, marginalized communities, or their families. It might also apply to people who facilitate or get financial benefit from the misuse of commercial spyware.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement announcing the new policy, “The United States remains concerned with the growing misuse of commercial spyware around the world to facilitate repression, restrict the free flow of information, and enable human rights abuses.”

“The misuse of commercial spyware threatens privacy and freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. Such targeting has been linked to arbitrary detentions, forced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings in the most egregious of cases.”

A senior administration official did not immediately clarify whether any particular individual or group will be immediately affected by the visa restrictions. 

However, the officials clarified the visa restriction policy can apply to citizens of any country found to have misused or facilitated the malign use of spyware. The rules also apply to people from countries who are allowed entry into the US without applying for a visa.

Biden issued another executive order nearly a year ago restricting the US government’s use of commercial spyware “that poses risks to national security.”

That order required the head of any US agency using commercial programs to certify that they don’t pose a significant counterintelligence or other security risk, a senior administration official said. It was issued as the White House acknowledged a surge in hacks of US government employees, across 10 countries, that had been compromised or targeted by commercial spyware.

All you need to know about Pegasus, the best-known spyware

Perhaps the best-known example of spyware, the Pegasus, developed by Israel’s NSO Group, was reportedly employed to target over 1,000 individuals in 50 countries, as revealed by a July 2021 global media investigation. The US has imposed export restrictions on NSO Group, limiting its access to American components and technology. 

In Jordan, Pegasus was used to hack the phones of at least 30 people, including journalists, lawyers, and activists, according to digital rights group Access Now.

(With inputs from agencies)


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Published: 06 Feb 2024, 07:10 AM IST

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