Administration officials said that the executive order would be central to a message Mr. Biden plans to bring to a White House-sponsored gathering, the Summit for Democracy, later this week. A White House news release said the order “demonstrates the United States’ leadership in, and commitment to, advancing technology for democracy, including by countering the misuse of commercial spyware and other surveillance technology.”
Last week, the director of national intelligence issued new restrictions on former American intelligence operatives from taking lucrative jobs with foreign governments, including some that are developing advanced technologies to spy on their citizens.
In September 2021, three former American intelligence officers who had worked for DarkMatter, a hacking firm in the United Arab Emirates, admitted to hacking crimes and violating U.S. export laws. Prosecutors said that the men helped the Emirates gain unauthorized access to “acquire data from computers, electronic devices and servers around the world, including on computers and servers in the United States.”
The most prominent seller of spyware is NSO Group. Numerous governments, from Mexico to India to Saudi Arabia, have deployed NSO’s Pegasus spyware against political dissidents and journalists. In November 2021, the Biden administration put NSO and another Israeli spyware company on a Commerce Department blacklist.
In addition, several American government agencies have either purchased or deployed Pegasus. In 2018, the Central Intelligence Agency bought the surveillance tool for the government of Djibouti, which used it inside that country. The next year, the F.B.I. purchased Pegasus and tested the tool for two years, before ultimately deciding not to deploy it.
Documents produced as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by The New York Times against the bureau show that F.B.I. officials made a push in late 2020 and the first half of 2021 to deploy Pegasus as part of its criminal investigations, including developing guidelines for federal prosecutors about how the F.B.I.’s use of hacking tools would need to be disclosed during criminal proceedings.