NSO Employees Countersue Facebook Over Blocked Accounts

Plaintiffs say denying access to social media accounts amid legal battle over alleged phone hacking was unjust

The logo of the Israeli NSO Group company on a building in Herzliya, Israel, August 2016.
Daniella Cheslow,AP

Eight employees of NSO Group filed a lawsuit on Tuesday in demand that Facebook Inc. unblock their private Facebook accounts on the social media site and Instagram. The employees said the U.S.-based social media giant had blocked their personal accounts on its sites and also those of former workers and family members when it sued the Israeli surveillance firm last month.

The plaintiffs asked the Tel Aviv District Court to order Facebook to unblock the accounts until the issues are decided in court. They say Facebook violated its agreement with them by blocking the accounts arbitrarily and without notice, and without providing a reason.

In a statement, the NSO employees said Facebook had imposed “collective punishment” by choosing to block their private accounts due to the legal process Facebook is conducting against NSO. They also said their lawsuit was filed only after they made repeated requests to Facebook that went unanswered.

Facebook said in a statement that it had disabled "relevant accounts" after attributing a "sophisticated cyber attack" to NSO Group and its employees. Those actions "continue to be necessary for security reasons, including preventing additional attacks," the company said.

It added that it had reenabled some accounts through an appeals process.

Facebook’s suit against NSO, filed in California in October, accuses the Herzliya-based company of using its Pegasus software to break into the phones of 1,400 targeted individuals across four continents, including diplomats, political dissidents, journalists and senior government officials, through their WhatsApp accounts.

The plaintiff’s lawyers said that in violating their rights in this case, Facebook was repeating a pattern of behavior that Israeli courts have previously found to be illegal, on more than one occasion.

“The court made it clear, in two separate instances, the prohibition against Facebook’s blocking of user accounts for a violation that is not a material violation or without proof of the agreement’s violation. Facebook nevertheless overtly flouts court rulings and persists in its actions as if nothing happened,” the lawyers wrote.