US to Roll Out Visa Restrictions on People Who Misuse Spyware to Target Journalists, Activists

Yesterday, the Biden administration announced it would be rolling out a new policy to impose visa restrictions on foreign individuals involved in the misuse of commercial spyware. This includes those who have used spyware to target individuals such as journalists, activists, perceived dissidents, members of marginalized communities, or the family members of those who are targeted. According to Secretary of State Antony Blinke, “The United States remains concerned with the growing misuse of commercial spyware around the world to facilitate repression, restrict the free flow of information, and enable human rights abuses…The misuse of commercial spyware threatens privacy and freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. Such targeting has been linked to arbitrary detentions, forced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings in the most egregious of cases.”

Security Officer Comments:
The development comes after Biden issued an executive order last year that would restrict the US government’s use of commercial spyware after a surge in the U.S. government employees being hacked. Recently Access Now also published a blog post noting that NGO Group’s Pegasus spyware in particular has been used to target the iPhones of dozens of government officials as well as journalists in countries like Jordan in the last couple of years. While the U.S. has already imposed export limits on the NSO Group, the Biden administration is now imposing further restrictions in hopes of eliminating the risk posed by such software to national security.