Bigger, bolder: U.S. slaps sanctions on spyware company and executives

Bigger, bolder: U.S. slaps sanctions on spyware company and executives

In its most aggressive move yet to combat the proliferation of commercial spyware, the U.S. government this week sanctioned two individuals and five entities associated with the Intellexa consortium. This is the first time the U.S. government has used this authority to target spyware companies and the people associated with them. Access Now celebrates and urges additional action to further rein in the unchecked surveillance tech industry.

The U.S. slapping sanctions on spyware companies and executives is a historic action that further illustrates the severity of the problem we are facing and the Biden administration’s commitment to confronting it. Access Now urges the U.S. to continue using every policy tool available to hold spyware companies and their executives accountable for human rights violations. Michael De Dora, U.S. Policy and Advocacy Manager at Access Now

Last year, the Commerce Department placed Intellexa S.A. in Greece, Intellexa Limited in Ireland, Cytrox AD in North Macedonia, and Cytrox Holdings Crt in Hungary on its Entity List, prohibiting U.S. companies from providing services to Intellexa. The imposition of sanctions by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control now blocks the U.S. property of every individual and entity listed, and bars them from all transactions with the U.S. financial market.

The Intellexa consortium is infamous for its invasive spyware Predator, which has been used to target civil society members and politicians globally. From Egypt to Greece, Predator spyware has impacted the lives of journalists, activists, and political dissidents, violating their fundamental freedoms and decimating their sense of safety and privacy.

Surveillance tech firm Intellexa has the audacity to bill itself as an ‘E.U.-based and regulated company,’ while it enables human rights abuses across the globe, including in the E.U. This reveals how E.U. member states and institutions have failed to rein in spyware, allowing perpetrators to line their pockets at the cost of everyone’s privacy and safety.With human rights on the line, the E.U. simply cannot continue business as usual. Rand Hammoud, Surveillance Campaigns Lead at Access Now

As next steps, Access Now recommends that the Biden administration: 

  • Investigate and levy OFAC sanctions against more individuals and entities tied to the Intellexa Consortium and other spyware companies where there is evidence of enabling human rights abuses;
  • Continue to add spyware companies to the Department of Commerce Entity List;
  • Levy Magnitsky sanctions against notorious spyware companies, such as NSO Group;
  • Apply the new visa restrictions policy to executives, partners, and investors of spyware companies added to the Entity List, or flagged in accordance with the March 2023 executive order; and
  • Support U.S. Congressional efforts to codify the Biden administration’s executive order into law and empower the U.S. State Department to publicly name individuals sanctioned under Section 212 (a)(3)(C) authority.