Pegasus spyware hearing postponed

The Civil Court has postponed a hearing in a lawsuit filed by activist Jatupat Boonpattararaksa against NSO Group, an Israeli company which developed the Pegasus spyware, after the company’s lawyers claimed that they are unable to reach the relevant Israeli authorities to complete necessary paperwork because the country is at war.

Jatupat is suing NSO Group for 2,500,000 baht in damages for violation of privacy after learning in July 2022 that the Pegasus spyware was being used to access information on his mobile phone. The complaint noted that, after selling the spyware to a government, NSO Group is still responsible for getting access to the targeted devices and delivering information to government agencies. The company also ran training sessions for state officials on how to use the spyware and is responsible for checking whether its customers are wrongfully using the spyware.

The company’s defence was that it does not oversee how its customers use the spyware. Although it will revoke the right to use the spyware if a customer does not use the programme for its intended purposes, it does not control how the spyware is used and is not aware of who the targets are. Nevertheless, NSO Group lawyers did not deny that the company sold the Pegasus spyware to the Thai government or that the spyware has been used in Thailand against Jatupat.

The defence lawyers said that Jatupat has known since November 2021 that the spyware was being used to access his information, and so the lawsuit is invalid as it was not filed within one year after he learned of the spyware’s use. However, Jatupat was detained at the time and could not access the email warning him of the spyware attack. He was released in February 2022 and could not confirm that his phone was being hacked until July 2022, when reports were released by non-profit organizations like Citizen Lab, iLaw, and DigitalReach that the Pegasus spyware was being used against Thai activists.

A hearing for settlement of issues was scheduled for yesterday (6 November). However, iLaw said the court decided to postpone the hearing as the documents giving the defence lawyers the power of attorney to represent NSO Group were incomplete.

The lawyers said that they were unable to contact the relevant Israeli authorities to have the documents certified due to the situation in Israel and Palestine, and asked the court to postpone the hearing until the situation improved and they could find a government agency in Israel to certify the paperwork. The court ruled to postpone the hearing to 5 February 2024 to allow the defence lawyers to complete the paperwork.

In July 2022, iLaw released a report that at least 30 activists, academics, and other critics of the government of former Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha had been targeted using the Pegasus spyware, which is referred to as a “highly sophisticated spyware produced by the Israel-based cybersecurity company NSO Group, and is licensed only to government agencies with the approval of the Israeli government.”

The spyware can infiltrate a target’s device without the use of click bait lures employed in other hacks, and an automatic tracking record erasure that removes software footprints. It allows attackers to gain complete control over an infected phone, providing access to photos, videos, messages and call records. It can also be used to turn on phone cameras and microphones, allowing hackers to observe real-time situations without the knowledge of rge phone owners.

During a parliamentary censure debate on 19 July 2022, Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, then Minister of Digital Economy and Society, said he was aware that Pegasus was being used in Thailand in cases related to “national security” and drug trafficking.

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