(Washington, D.C.) — The U.S. Department of Commerce announced today that it has placed NSO Group, the company at the heart of the Pegasus surveillance scandal, on its “Entity List,” an export-control tool used to hold accountable those entities engaged in activities that are or could be contrary to U.S. national security and foreign policy interests. PEN America commended the decision of the department as a positive first step to combat the dangers of spyware technology.

“This decision is an important and welcome step toward accountability for corporations whose creation and sale of spyware has enabled the surveillance of and attacks on journalists, academics, and dissidents,” said Matt Bailey, PEN America’s digital freedom program director. “That said, the action is largely symbolic and much more is needed. Today’s decision must be followed by additional, concrete efforts to stop the unfettered sale and use of these technologies. Today, we renew the call we made alongside partner organizations for the adoption and enforcement of a comprehensive legal framework to limit the development and sale of spyware technologies. The Biden-Harris Administration has said that it wants to put human rights at the center of U.S. foreign policy; spyware is an urgent issue that is ready for action.” 

NSO Group Technologies was added to the “Entity List” due to evidence that they “developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that used these tools to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics, and embassy workers,” the Department of Commerce said in its announcement. Also added were Israeli firm Candiru, Positive Technologies of Russia, and Computer Security Initiative Consultancy PTE LTD, of Singapore. 

Surveillance software sold by NSO Group had been used since 2016 to hack hundreds of phones belonging to journalists, human rights defenders, and political leaders, including French President Emanuel Macron, the fiancée of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and Azerbaijani investigative journalist and PEN Freedom to Write awardee Khadija Ismayilova. Since the July revelation of NSO Group’s role by a groundbreaking consortium including Forbidden Stories, Amnesty International, and multiple news outlets, PEN America has called on all governments to curtail the development and sale of technologies used to violate human rights and to hold businesses globally accountable to the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.