On Monday, the White House signed an executive order to impose restrictions on the use of commercial spyware by US government agencies in a move to tighten control of the types of monitoring and surveillance tools the agencies use.
The order comes amid growing concerns over attacks where threat actors were found abusing spyware to commit immoral acts, including intimidating political opponents, limiting freedom of speech, and monitoring activists and journalists.
Under the new guidelines, the government can now ban commercial spyware tools from specific vendors in certain circumstances. For instance, agencies should be forbidden from using tools developed by companies linked to violations of privacy and human rights.
“The proliferation of commercial spyware poses distinct and growing counterintelligence and security risks to the United States, including to the safety and security of U.S. Government personnel and their families,” reads the White House’s announcement. “U.S. Government personnel overseas have been targeted by commercial spyware, and untrustworthy commercial vendors and tools can present significant risks to the security and integrity of U.S. Government information and information systems.”
The White House said the order sets clear guidelines for US intelligence agencies regarding their use of commercially available spyware, including requirements for transparency, accountability and oversight.
It’s worth noting that the order doesn’t prevent government agencies from using spyware tools altogether. However, through this decision, the Biden administration said it aims to help ensure US intelligence agencies employ surveillance solutions responsibly and without infringing on Americans' civil liberties.