France Opens Probe Into Spyware As Global Scandal Over Israeli Program Grows
By RFE/RL July 20, 2021
French prosecutors have opened an investigation into allegations that journalists of a local investigative news website had been spied on using an Israeli program at the center of an international scandal.
The French probe will examine 10 different charges, including whether there was a breach of personal privacy, fraudulent access to personal electronic devices, and criminal association, the Paris prosecutor's office said on July 20.
The probe took on ever greater urgency after the newspaper Le Monde reported on July 20 that French President Emmanuel Macron and several other senior government officials were targeted for potential surveillance on behalf of Morocco in the spyware case.
The announcement of the investigation comes a day after website Mediapart filed a legal complaint, accusing Morocco's secret services of having used the Israel-based NSO Group's Pegasus spyware to spy on the mobile phones of two of its reporters.
Rabat rejected what it called "unfounded and false allegations."
Politicians and media rights groups across the world voiced outrage this week after a new report alleged that a number of autocratic regimes, but also democratic governments, used Pegasus to hack the smartphones of journalists, officials, and rights activists worldwide.
An investigation by 17 media organizations -- including Le Monde and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), released on July 18, has drawn links between NSO Group, accused of supplying spyware to governments, and a leaked database of up to 50,000 phone numbers believed to have been identified as people of interest by clients of the company since 2016.
NSO Group clients included the governments of Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Togo, and the United Arab Emirates, according to the report.
NSO has denied any wrongdoing, saying that its software is intended for use against criminals and terrorists and is made available only to military, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies from countries with good human rights records.
The list of names include 189 journalists, more than 600 politicians and government officials, at least 65 business executives, 85 human rights activists, and several heads of state, according to The Washington Post, a consortium member. The journalists work for organizations including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, The Associated Press, Reuters, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Le Monde, and The Financial Times.
The Le Monde report said that in addition to Macron, former French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and 14 ministers had also been targeted in 2019.
Hungarian lawmakers on July 19 called for a similar inquiry into reports that Prime Minister Viktor Orban's right-wing government may have used the powerful malware to spy on critical journalists, politicians, and business figures.
Orban has been accused by the EU of flouting democracy with a series of laws seen as curtailing a free press and human rights. His government, however, has denied any use of the Pegasus software "in any way."
It was unclear whether any RFE/RL reporters are among the five Hungarian journalists who were listed in the report as allegedly spied on.
Pegasus infects iPhones and Android devices to enable operators to record phone calls, access text messages, photos, e-mails, and passwords, track GPS data, secretly activate microphones and cameras.
With reporting by AFP and Reuters
Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/france-probe -pegasus-spywear/31368284.html
Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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