In Other News – US Appeals Court allows WhatsApp to move forward with a lawsuit against NSO Group & More – 11/12/2021

November 12, 2021

Turkish drones continue to grow in influence and sophistication, placing Turkey in esteemed but complicated geopolitical position. This week, leading Turkish defense company Baykar announced that it will be testing two new unmanned aircraft with the ability to take off from naval ships, further securing Ankara’s position at the forefront of drone technology. According to Baykar’s CEO, the new drones should be ready in about two years and will extend the nation’s capabilities from land to sea. Over the past twenty years, Ankara has made a concerted effort to build up its defense industry and designing advanced drones has been central to this effort. The results appear to be paying off, as the use of Baykar’s Bayraktar TB2 drones has contributed significantly to recent military victories in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Azerbaijan, among others, and the firm has signed export deals with 13 countries. Turkey is now reportedly one of the world’s top four drone producers along with China, Israel, and the United States.

But Ankara’s efforts to be at the forefront of drone technology also puts it in a delicate geopolitical position. Turkish drone strikes in northeastern Syria continue to target areas controlled by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, contributing to tensions with Washington. And even when Turkey isn’t directly behind the strikes, its drone sales are viewed as indirect support of a nation. Egypt was recently angered by news of potential Turkish drone sales to Ethiopia, and Russia continues to be upset by Ankara’s ongoing relationship with Ukraine. In 2019, Ukraine, who has been critical in the development of the TB2 platform, signed an agreement for over ten Turkish drones and joined a venture with Turkey to produce nearly 50 more. Two weeks ago, Russia warned Ankara over arms sales to Kyiv after a TB2 drone attacked pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, and on Wednesday US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed concern about “unusual Russian military activity” along the Ukraine border that hints at a possible Russian invasion, a scenario that would put Turkey further in the balance.

US Appeals Court allows WhatsApp to move forward with a lawsuit against NSO Group, implications for accountability of tech companies. NSO Group, the Israeli developer of Pegasus spyware that’s reportedly been used by authoritarian governments worldwide to surveil political opponents and journalists, took a hit earlier this week when the US Ninth Court of Appeals concluded that the immunity granted to foreign governments that prevents them from civil litigation in US courts does not extend to NSO. WhatsApp is accusing NSO of targeting its California servers with malware and hacking into 1,400 WhatsApp user accounts in violation of US state and federal law. This week’s appeals court decision supports an earlier 2020 ruling from a lower court and comes just a week after the US Department of Commerce added NSO to its “entity list,” which limits the group’s access to US components and technology. NSO is expected to try to reverse the sanctions and has argued in court that its technology is designed to help law-enforcement authorities gain insight to terrorists and criminals who are hiding behind encrypted apps to plot attacks or crimes. But thus far US courts have concluded that whatever NSO’s government customers do with the software and services does not render NSO an “agency or instrumentality of a foreign state.” It is possible that NSO could try to take the case to the US supreme court, but it’s uncertain whether the court would take the case.