Oregon could get rid of controversial spyware investment


SALEM – Oregon treasurer is exploring legal options with state attorney general over state’s large investment in smartphone spyware company – a company that has been denounced by groups human rights advocates, the US government and tech giants.

In 2017, the Oregon Investment Council unanimously committed $ 233 million in the state employee retirement fund to a new private equity fund called Novalpina Capital, which later acquired a controlling stake in NSO Group, an Israeli company that produces spyware for smartphones.

The company’s Pegasus spyware, which can turn a smartphone into a listening device and dig through emails, documents, texts and photos, has been used by repressive regimes against dissidents, human rights defenders and others. journalists.

NSO Group has been the subject of numerous lawsuits, including by Facebook and Apple. Last month it was blacklisted by the U.S. government along with another company for developing and supplying “spyware to foreign governments that used these tools to maliciously target government officials, journalists, men. business people, activists, academics and embassy workers ”.

Earlier this year, London-based Novalpina Capital became so dysfunctional due to a bitter dispute between its partners that investors, including Oregon, took control of the fund from them and handed it over to a company. called Berkeley Research Group.

Related: Senator Wyden says Oregon should part ways with spyware company

Oregon State Treasurer Tobias Read “supports sanctions against global tech companies that facilitate human rights abuses and oppression of journalists by selling technology to authoritarian regimes,” the door said. Read, Amy Bates, spoke in a statement Thursday to The Associated Press.

The Oregon Treasury has worked with Berkeley Research Group “and advice to get a full account of the previous fund manager’s investing activities over the past few years,” said Bates, who declined to give details. .

Two months ago, the Berkeley Research Group had not been authorized by the Israeli government to receive sensitive information about NSO Group, the Guardian newspaper reported. The Berkeley Research Group did not immediately respond to questions about whether it had since had access to the information.

“Earlier this month, the treasurer also contacted the Oregon attorney general about various legal options available for the Oregon retirement fund,” Bates said.

Some observers have taken the consultations to mean that Oregon is looking for a legal way to abandon the investment.

“The big investor in NSO, the Oregon state pension fund… has taken a cold foot,” tweeted John Scott-Railton, senior researcher at Citizen Lab, which is based at the University of Toronto and investigated the deployment of and targeted Pegasus spyware.

He said it looks like Oregon is “looking for the way out.”

Read and other members of the Oregon Investment Council recently told legislators that state law says investments must “make money as productive as possible.”

“When we stop investing, we do it for performance reasons, not for political or personal reasons,” wrote Read and four other OIC members in their October 25 letter.

Bates pointed out that Oregon is a limited partner in private equity fund investments and, therefore, is not involved in how such a fund conducts its business once an investment is made, but is ” deeply disturbed by the information on developments concerning NSO Group ”.

For its part, NSO Group said in a statement on Wednesday that it “has chosen ethics over revenue, and we firmly believe that our contribution to global security, including US national interests, should have the opportunity to ‘to be presented’.

“We only sell to governments authorized by the State of Israel, for the sole purpose of preventing terrorism and crime. Once the software is sold, the company does not operate the system, ”the company added.

– The Associated Press

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