Israeli Court Orders Facebook to Unblock Account of NSO Group Employee

Group of Israeli cyber intelligence firm's employees has filed suit after social media giant blocked their private accounts when it filed its own lawsuit

FILE Photo: The logo for Facebook on screens in New York's Times Square, March 29, 2018.
Richard Drew,AP

A Tel Aviv court ordered Facebook Inc. to unblock the private account of a worker at Israeli surveillance company NSO Group, and similar rulings are expected for other employees in the coming days, an NSO spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

A group of eight NSO employees filed suit against Facebook in November, saying the social media giant had unfairly blocked their private accounts when it sued NSO in October.

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Tel Aviv District Court judge Rahamin Cohen ruled that Facebook had blocked their accounts "unilaterally and with no warning."

Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp accused the Israeli firm of helping government spies break into the phones of about 1,400 users in a hacking spree targeting diplomats, political dissidents, journalists and senior government officials across the globe.

The NSO employees said their Facebook and Instagram accounts, and also those of former workers and family members, had been blocked. 80 accounts were blocked in total, according to NSO, but two of them were re-activated after it had been made clear that they no longer work for the firm.

Ruling on their complaint, the court ordered the account of one employee, Orit Azarzar, to be restored by Wednesday afternoon.

"We are certain that following the court's unequivocal statements, Facebook will reverse the action it took against other employees," the NSO spokeswoman said.

Facebook said in a statement: "NSO Group has conducted cyber attacks against human rights activists, journalists, and diplomats. We will continue to take appropriate action to defend our users and we look forward to participating in open court to document how NSO threatens the safety and security of users and needs to be held accountable."

The company said in November it had disabled "relevant accounts" after attributing a "sophisticated cyberattack" to the NSO Group and its employees, saying the measure was necessary for security reasons.