US Limits Visas For Commercial Spyware Linked Individuals

The highlighted individuals profiting from controversial technology, misused against journalists, academics, and rights defenders.

by Alan Joseph April 23, 2024 in Cybersecurity News, Firewall Daily Reading Time: 3 mins read 0

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The United States government took a significant step in countering the spread and misuse of . The issued visa restrictions on 13 individuals who were involved in the production and distribution of commercial spyware, as well as their immediate family members.

The press statement described the individuals as benefitting financially from the controversial technology, which has been misused to target various groups such as journalists, academics, human rights defenders, dissident individuals, and individuals.

Human Rights Violations and Counter-Intelligence Fears Cited as Justification

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The policy framework to begin implementing visa restrictions was issued in February 2024 as part of Section 212 (a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken stated that the move came in response to concerns of growing global misuse of commercial spyware to enable government repression, restrict information sharing, or enable various human rights abuses.

The release further described commercial spyware as threatening privacy, freedom of expression, free assembly or association. It described the technology as being linked to arbitrary detentions, forced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings in extreme cases.

There was additional concern about the possibility of misusing these tools as a form of counterintelligence effort against individuals in the U.S. government as a threat to national security.

New US Government Measures Target Commercial Spyware

This visa restriction policy empowers the Department of State to enforce visa restrictions for three categories: (1) those involved in misusing commercial spyware to target individuals unlawfully, including journalists, activists, dissidents, and vulnerable populations; (2) those benefiting financially from commercial spyware, such as company directors providing spyware to governments engaging in unlawful surveillance; and (3) immediate family members of those in the first two categories(including spouses and children of any age)

Last month, in March 2024 the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued sanctions on two individuals and five entities associated with commercial spyware development.

In the same month, countries such as Finland, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Poland, and the Republic of Korea added themselves as participants to the ‘Joint Statement on Efforts to Counter the Proliferation and Misuse of Commercial Spyware' with their representatives meeting in person.

Last year in March 2023, the US Government issued an executive order prohibiting members of the United States Government from employing commercial spyware that may pose a risk to national security. These measures indicate that the U.S. government isn't treating the proliferation of commercial spyware lightly.

Through visa and similar restrictions on associated individuals as well as joint efforts with other countries, the government aims at sending a strong message about human rights, privacy, and global security matters.


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