Ex-Obama Official Leaves Israeli Spyware Firm Amid Press Freedom Conflict

Ex-Obama Official Leaves Israeli Spyware Firm Amid Press Freedom Conflict

A high profile national security expert has stepped down from an Israeli spyware firm whose software was reportedly used against human rights activists. Democrat Juliette Kayyem, right, works with aide Amanda Braun at her home in Cambridge, Mass. Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. Image: AP Photo/Elise Amendola

Juliette Kayyem, a former Obama administration official, has stepped down from NSO Group Technologies, an Israeli spyware company, whose software was reportedly used against human rights activists and journalists.

Spyware is defined as unwanted software that infiltrates a computer or device, often without a person’s knowledge, stealing internet usage data and sensitive information or damaging the device in question.

Spyware companies that operate in the U.S. include Pegasus, Gator and Zlob.

Kayyem, a high profile national security expert and Harvard professor, has faced criticism from press freedom groups for her role as a senior advisor at NSO Group.

“Juliette played an important role advising NSO on its governance framework, and we’re grateful for her leadership and experience during her time as senior adviser,” NSO said in a statement.

Kayyem’s departure comes after Harvard University canceled a webinar on female journalist safety in which she was due to speak. Concerns were voiced about her participation as a paid NSO adviser, resulting in the webinar being canceled.

The circumstances surrounding Kayyem’s departure were not clear.

NSO announced in August 2019 that it would be hiring three advisors, Kayyem, Tom Ridge — the former U.S secretary of homeland security — and Gerard Araud — the former French ambassador to the U.S., to support the company’s work in assisting governments to fight serious crimes and terrorism.

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Since that announcement, NSO has been accused of using its technology to target members of civil society.

WhatsApp filed a civil suit against NSO. According to Reuters, NSO is also under investigation by the FBI and is facing separate lawsuits in Israel.