Timothy Dickinson, a partner at Paul Hastings, LLC, is a registered lobbyist for NSO Group, an Israeli company blacklisted by the U.S. Department of Commerce for its Pegasus Spyware. The Commerce Department added NSO Group to its Entity List on November 4, 2021 for "engaging in activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States." NSO Group's Pegasus spyware has been used to target government officials, journalists, human rights defenders, and democracy activists throughout the world.
Dickinson is Senior Counsel in the Litigation Department at Paul Hastings and Professor of Practice at University of Michigan Law School. He is a recognized legal expert on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and he teaches a course on anti-corruption law and practice at Michigan Law School. Dickinson became a partner at Paul Hastings in 2006, an international law firm that markets itself as a "global leader in addressing business and human rights issues."
In a November 3, 2021 press release explaining its decision to add NSO Group to its Entity List, the Commerce Department stated that NSO Group "developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that used these tools to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics, and embassy workers." The Commerce Department also noted that Pegasus spyware "enabled foreign governments to conduct transnational repression, which is the practice of authoritarian governments targeting dissidents, journalists and activists outside of their sovereign borders to silence dissent." It concluded that "[s]uch practices threaten the rules-based international order."
On November 23, 2021, Apple filed a lawsuit against NSO Group, claiming that the company violated numerous federal and state laws and seeking to ban the company from appearing on any Apple device. Apple also sent threat notifications to journalists, activists, and other individuals targeted by Pegasus. Apple's lawsuit followed a similar 2019 lawsuit filed by WhatsApp, alleging that NSO Group violated the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and California's Comprehensive Data Access and Fraud Act.
NSO Group has received widespread criticism for the use of Pegasus spyware in human rights abuses and transnational repression.
NSO Group has received widespread criticism for the use of Pegasus spyware in human rights abuses and transnational repression. In July 2021, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet condemned the technology, stating, "Revelations regarding the apparent widespread use of the Pegasus software to spy on journalists, human rights defenders, politicians and others in a variety of countries are extremely alarming, and seem to confirm some of the worst fears about the potential misuse of surveillance technology to illegally undermine people's human rights."
These targets include Saudi dissident, journalist, and Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) co-founder Jamal Khashoggi, as NSO Group's Pegasus spyware likely was used to facilitate his murder. Saudi operatives, acting under the direction of Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, killed Khashoggi on October 2, 2018 after luring him to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. While NSO Group has repeatedly denied that its software was used by Saudi officials involved in Khashoggi's murder, Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi dissident and close associate of Khashoggi, discovered Pegasus spyware installed on his phone before Khashoggi's murder. Saudi officials used the Pegasus software embedded on Abdulaziz's phone to spy on and monitor Khashoggi's movements in the months before his murder. Saudi officials also used the spyware to monitor Khashoggi's friends and associates, as well as other Saudi dissidents and human rights activists, after his murder.
On December 15, 2021, a group of 18 U.S. Representatives and Senators published a letter to Secretary of Treasury Janet Yellen and Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the Biden-Harris administration to implement Global Magnitsky Sanctions for "technology companies that have enabled human rights abuses, including the arrest, disappearance, torture and murder of human rights activists and journalists, such as Jamal Khashoggi, by selling powerful surveillance technology to authoritarian governments." In this call for action, these legislators also noted the use of NSO spyware against State Department staff working in Uganda.
Nonetheless, on January 24, 2022, about three months after the Commerce Department blacklisted NSO Group, Paul Hastings registered as a lobbyist for the Israeli company under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. In a Short Form Registration Statement filed the same day, Dickinson reported a contract with NSO Group for $10,000 a month to "provide legal advice and support for engagements with business partners, government officials, and other stakeholders about NSO's technology," which could also include "communications with Executive and Legislative branch offices as well as media."
Even before registering as a lobbyist, Dickinson sent a letter "on behalf of NSO Group" to Ambassador Lisa Peterson, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the U.S. State Department on January 7, 2022, requesting to meet with Peterson as a follow-up on the Biden administration's Summit for Democracy held on December 9–10, 2021. Despite numerous reports showing how authoritarian regimes used NSO Group technologies to target citizens and conduct transnational repression, Dickinson wrote, "NSO is a technology company that only licenses technologies to vetted, U.S. and Israeli allied legitimate law enforcement and intelligence agencies for use in fighting terrorism and serious violent crimes such as human trafficking and the dissemination of child sexual abuse materials."
Dickinson also extolled NSO Group's internal protocols, claiming that the company acted "consistent with efforts to continuously improve its practices and align its conduct with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, to prevent the sale of its technology to customers who might misuse it, and take appropriate measures against those customers who do misuse it." Dickinson even included a statement that "NSO applauds the announcement of the U.S. Government . . . to recognize, as does NSO, that responsible use of technologies such as NSO's 'is essential for the well-being of our future generations.'" Dickinson's letter was sent more than two months after the Commerce Department blacklisted NSO Group and seems to have misrepresented the position of the U.S. Government regarding this technology.
DAWN calls on Timothy Dickinson and his firm, Paul Hastings, LLC, to drop its contract with NSO Group immediately, to conduct a thorough review of all its clients, and to cease representation of clients such as NSO Group whose policies do not comply with the UN Guideline Principles on Business and Human Rights.
The firm's work with NSO Group precedes its representation as a lobbyist for the company. In 2019, NSO Group hired Paul Hastings to assess its human rights program, and in a September 6, 2019 memo, the firm found that "the Company's program design . . . aligns with the core elements of a human rights program as identified by the UNGPs [UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights] and relevant interpretive methods." The memo concluded that NSO Group "is undertaking a serious commitment to implement the human rights program, and to allocating sufficient resources and funding to carry out its responsibility to respect human rights." Dickinson signed off on the September 6 memo concluding that NSO Group is "undertaking a serious commitment to implement" its human rights program.
Following Paul Hastings' assessment of NSO Group's human rights practices, numerous human rights organizations and civil society groups corresponded with and investigated the company for more than two years concerning its human rights policies and standards. On April 27, 2021, after its two-year engagement with the company, nine leading human rights organizations published a joint letter to NSO Group concluding that the company had failed to implement human rights policies or provide public information about its policies. Accordingly, these human rights groups concluded: "The totality of these omissions and outstanding questions and concerns suggest Novalpina Capital [NSO Group's parent company] and NSO Group have not engaged in good faith when it comes to respect for human rights."
On July 17, 2021, Forbidden Stories launched the Pegasus Project, a global initiative involving 17 media organizations. The Pegasus Project demonstrated the extent to which authoritarian governments utilized NSO Group's Pegasus spyware to conduct domestic spying and transnational repression. The Project included several articles documenting the use of the spyware by repressive governments throughout the Middle East and North Africa to target politicians, government officials, dissidents, human rights defenders, and journalists. The Project provided evidence of the use of Pegasus spyware against more than 180 journalists in numerous countries, many with poor human rights records. NSO Group published a response the following day, claiming that the company is not responsible for these acts since it sells its spyware to vetted countries and does not operate these systems after their sale.
At this time, Dickinson served as an external advisor to NSO Group, documented in the company's 2021 Transparency and Responsibility Report published on June 30, 2021. In a Newsweek article published on July 27, 2021, Dickinson, identified as a partner at Paul Hastings and a "NSO human rights advisor," dismissed the Pegasus Project and widespread criticism of NSO Group, stating, "The company is always looking to improve its processes," and, "Corruption, human rights and other issues are certainly things that companies have to look at all the time. And I think NSO is certainly aware of that and is doing so."
DAWN calls on Timothy Dickinson and his firm, Paul Hastings, LLC, to drop its contract with NSO Group immediately, to conduct a thorough review of all its clients, and to cease representation of clients such as NSO Group whose policies do not comply with the UN Guideline Principles on Business and Human Rights. Consistent with international and domestic legal responsibilities, see DAWN's detailed recommendations to Congress, lobbyists, and U.S. State Bar Associations on our Lobbyist Hall of Shame.