Two cyber-surveillance and private data-gathering companies, Sytrax and Intelaxa, have been added to a list of US companies banned for posing a national security risk, the Commerce Department announced on Tuesday.
They are accused of “exploiting opportunities to gain access to information systems and thereby threaten the privacy and security of people and organizations around the world,” the Commerce Department said in a statement.
A report by Canadian organization Citizen Lab published in late 2021 estimated that Predator software developed by Cytrox was specifically used to monitor the phones of two exiled Egyptian political opponents.
Cytrox was founded in North Macedonia in 2017 and is now part of Intellexa, which bills itself as an “espionage alliance,” according to Citizen Lab.
Both companies have sites in North Macedonia and Hungary, Sytrax in Ireland and Intellexa in Greece.
The inscription on the list refers to restrictions that allow companies to acquire software, technologies or raw materials to “develop surveillance tools that pose a risk of human rights abuse or abuse.”
Each potential purchase of American technology requires target companies to obtain a license from the Department of Commerce and imposes additional inspections on them.
“This list is a powerful tool in our arsenal, allowing us to prevent bad actors everywhere from using American technologies to achieve their nefarious goals,” Assistant Secretary of Commerce Don Graves said in the statement.
“We want to limit the proliferation of digital tools of oppression,” he added, adding that “protecting human rights everywhere in the world is in America’s fundamental interest.”
The list of these fines includes hundreds of companies, institutions or public or semi-public bodies around the world. This notably includes the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei, as well as the Israeli cyber-surveillance company NSO, whose Pegasus spy software would have made it possible to spy on numbers of journalists, politicians or activists in various countries.