Saudi Arabia, UAE: MEP Marietje Schaake (ALDE) issued a parliamentary question on the export and use of NSO software

On 3 December 2018, MEP Marietje Schaake (ALDE) addressed the issue of export and use of NSO software in connection with the negative impact it may have on human rights.  

On 3 December 2018, MEP Marietje Schaake (ALDE) issued a parliamentary question to HR/VP Federica Mogherini and the EU Commission concerning the export and use of NSO software. Ms. Schaake drew the attention on when Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz pursued legal action against the Israeli software company NSO for selling Pegasus software to the Government of Saudi Arabia. This software would have been used to target specific communications, such as Mr.Abdulaziz’s communications, and the ones with journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Ms. Schaake reminded that it is not unprecedented that the Israeli Government has supplied export licenses for NSO software which have been used against human rights defenders by governments (UAE, Mexico and Ethiopia).

In light of these observations, MEP Marietje Schaake asked the following questions:

Can the Commission guarantee that no EU funding, under any heading or budget line, has directly or indirectly funded NSO? What effect will the Israeli Government’s granting of licences for NSO software exported to countries with dubious human rights records have on EU-Israeli cooperation and the use of EU funds in the field of (dual-use) software development? How will human rights conditions for dual-use items, such as those laid down in Parliament’s position of 17 January 2018 on the matter as regards control of exports, transfer, brokering, technical assistance and transit, be taken into account and/or considered in the funding of projects under the new Horizon Europe framework and/or other EU research and innovation programmes?

In a reply to MEP Schaake, the answer given by Mr. Oettinger on behalf of the European Commission highlighted that “no beneficiary entity could be identified” concerning funds directly managed by the Commission. However, regarding the funds whose management is in common with the Member States, this is especially typical of those states which give information on beneficiaries of EU funds.

Mr. Oettinger reminded that the EU signed an Association Agreement with Israel in 2000, in which democratic principles and human rights are the main elements. Concerning dual-use items, the EU must ensure that research projects it provides funds which do “not concern the development, production or use of any dual-use items, technologies or software and, as appropriate, ensures compliance with the relevant controls”.

He specified that human rights, privacy and data protection are essential in the EU policies, they are also taken into account in the EU’s Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe framework programs. Plus, the Commission’s proposal contains provisions to ensure a focus on civil applications. As a result, dual-use technology, including software applications, can be financed under specific conditions.

Finally, Mr. Oettinger emphasizes the fact that all actions undertaken through the framework Programme “shall comply with ethical principles and relevant national, Union and international legislation.”

The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) welcomes the question of MEP Marietje Schaake (ALDE) and the answer of Mr. Oettinger on behalf of the European Commission. We share concerns over the issue of export and use of NSO software in connection with the negative impact they may have on human rights.

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Please find below a full copy of the question of MEP Marietje Schaake (ALDE) and the response of Mr. Oettinger.

Question for written answer E-006103-18 to the Commission Rule 130, submitted by MEP Marietje Schaake (ALDE) on December 03 2018 Answer given by Mr. Oettinger on behalf of the European Commission, on March 08 2019.

Last week, Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz filed a lawsuit against Israeli software company NSO for selling Pegasus software to the Government of Saudi Arabia. That software was allegedly then used to target Mr Abdulaziz’s communications, including with murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

The Israeli Government has previously also provided export licenses for NSO software used by the governments of Mexico, the UAE and Ethiopia against human rights defenders.

A number of Israeli military and security companies, including Elbit and Israel Aerospace Industries, have received funding under Horizon 2020 and previous framework programmes.

  1. Can the Commission guarantee that no EU funding, under any heading or budget line, has directly or indirectly funded NSO?
  2. What effect will the Israeli Government’s granting oflicence sfor NSO software exported to countries with dubious human rights records have on EU-Israeli cooperation and the use of EU funds in the field of (dual-use) software development?
  3. How will human rights conditions for dual-use items, such as those laid down in Parliament’s position of 17 January 2018 on the matter as regards control of exports, transfer, brokering, technical assistance and transit, be taken into account and/or considered in the funding of projects under the new Horizon Europe framework and/or other EU research and innovation programmes?

Answer given by Mr.Oettinger on behalf of the European Commission, on March 08 2019.

  1. Concerning funds managed directly by the Commission, no beneficiary entity could be identified — and, accordingly, no corresponding payment has been found — in the Commission’s central accounting system as potential recipient matching the designation in the question.

Concerning the payments from funds where management is shared with Member States (Financial Regulation, Article 58.1(b)) or regarding indirect management (Financial Regulation, Article 58.1(c)) it is the cooperating partners (especially Member States) which provide information on beneficiaries of EU funds.

  1. The EU entered into an Association Agreement with Israel in 2000. The respect for human rights and democratic principles are an essential element of the Agreement. As for dual-use items, when the EU provides funding to research projects it requires assurance that the proposal does not concern the development, production or use of any dual-use items, technologies or software and, as appropriate, ensures compliance with the relevant controls. An optional article (Article 37.3) stating that ‘non-compliance with Regulation 428/2009 constitutes breach of contract’ is included in the Grant Agreement of relevant projects. 
  2. Human rights, privacy and data protection are at the very heart of EU policies, including the EU Framework Programmes Horizon 2020 and the future Horizon Europe. The Commission proposal has provisions guaranteeing a focus on civil applications, and therefore dual-use technology, including software applications, can be funded under specific conditions. 

All actions carried out under the framework Programme shall comply with ethical principles and relevant national, Union and international legislation. 

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