International Law Firm Championing Itself as "Global Leader in Business and Human Rights" Now Registered Lobbyist for NSO Group, Maker of Notorious Pegasus Spyware
(Washington D.C., April 7, 2022) – Paul Hastings LLP should immediately drop its lobbyist contract with NSO Group, the maker of Pegasus Spyware, which authoritarian leaders have used with great effect to monitor and target its citizens, said Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).
Paul Hastings cannot credibly call itself a leader in business and human rights and lobby on behalf of NSO Group, given the numerous examples of authoritarian governments using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware to target human rights defenders, journalists, and government officials.
"Paul Hastings' representation of serial human rights offender NSO Group makes a mockery of its claim to be a global leader in supporting business and human rights," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of DAWN. "Paul Hastings has made a choice for financial gain or other reasons to champion and try to polish the reputation of a company that has enabled brutal authoritarian regimes to spy on and track their own citizens."
Paul Hastings, an international law firm marketing itself as a "global leader in addressing business and human rights issues," is now lobbying on behalf of NSO Group, the maker of Pegasus Spyware. The U.S. Department of Commerce 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."
In a press release explaining its decision, the Commerce Department stated that NSO Group, an Israeli company, was added to the Entity List based on evidence that it "developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that used these tools to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics, and embassy workers." It also noted that Pegasus "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," and that "[s]uch practices threaten the rules-based international order." Despite the Commerce Department's designation, Paul Hastings registered as a lobbyist for NSO Group under the Foreign Agents Registration Act in January 2022.
Today, Paul Hastings will co-host a conference on Business Accountability for Human Rights at Columbus School of Law, Catholic University of America. The conference will focus on human rights in global supply chains, and include topics related to forced labor, modern day slavery, and human trafficking. Some of the conference speakers are from countries where repressive governments use surveillance and spyware to target their citizens.
"Human rights activists working against forced labor, modern day slavery, trafficking, environmental issues, women's rights, and civil and political rights must take an intersectional approach to the defense of human rights, meaning we cannot and must not choose to simply ignore egregious violations of human rights that take place outside our areas of focus or roll out the red carpet for companies that facilitate those violations," said Adam Shapiro, Director of Advocacy for Israel-Palestine at DAWN. "Paul Hastings' cannot credibly claim to be a global leader in addressing business and human rights issues while also championing a company that facilitates human rights violations in other contexts."
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. In a September 6 memo, the firm concluded 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," and "that the company is undertaking a serious commitment to implement the human rights program, and to allocating sufficient resources and funding to carry out is responsibility to respect human rights."
Timothy Dickinson, partner at Paul Hastings, leads the firm's work with NSO Group. Dickinson serves as Senior Counsel in the firm's litigation department, and he is also a Professor of Practice at University of Michigan Law School. Hastings is a recognized expert on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and teaches anti-corruption law and practice at Michigan Law School. Dickinson signed off on the September 6 memo concluding NSO Group's "serious commitment" to implementing its human rights program.
Following Paul Hastings' defense of NSO Group's human rights practices, numerous human rights organizations and civil society groups continued to correspond with and investigate the company over the course of 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 media 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 repressive governments throughout the Middle East and North Africa using the spyware to target politicians, government officials, dissidents, human rights defenders, and journalists. NSO Group published a response the following day, where it argued that it is not responsible for these acts since it sells its spyware to vetted counties and does not operate these systems after their sale.
"Human rights activists must recognize that Paul Hastings' representation and defense of NSO Group makes the firm an enabler of NSO Group's violations of human rights and surveillance of activists," said Raed Jarrar, DAWN's Advocacy Director. "Paul Hastings has no business co-hosting any conference concerning human rights."
See DAWN's Lobbyist Profile of Timothy Dickinson on its Lobbyist Hall of Shame webpage.
DAWN's Lobbyist Hall of Shame will continue to expose American lobbyists—including lawyers and former elected representatives and government officials—who are working as agents for abusive Middle East governments to garner U.S. government support, including military aid, weapons sales, and diplomatic protection.