French President Emmanuel Macron and King of Morocco Mohammed VI may have been spied on with spyware from the NSO Group called Pegasus. And they are by no means the only prominent figures who have been monitored with the tapping software: the former Belgian Prime Minister and current President of the European Council Charles Michel would also be monitored. In total, at least fourteen prominent politicians and government officials are involved.
The Pegasus scandal is growing by the day. Earlier this week, the journalistic platform Forbidden Stories announced that it had obtained a list of 50,000 telephone numbers. The numbers on the list may have been tapped between 2016 and June 2021 using spy software developed by the NSO Group. The spyware collects text messages, emails, photos, videos, location data, and contact phone numbers. Pegasus can also silently record phone calls, take screenshots and turn on the camera.
Seventeen news organisations, the human rights organization Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories have so far been able to trace the current user of about a thousand telephone numbers. Research shows that hundreds of prominent business people, human rights activists and politicians are named. The list also included phone numbers of at least 189 journalists working for media outlets such as CNN, Associated Press (AP), The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Financial Times, Bloomberg and Al Jazeera.
For the first time, we hear concrete names behind the phone numbers on the infamous list. The Washington Post reports that three presidents, ten (former) prime ministers and one king are on the list. Perhaps the most famous name is that of French President Emmanuel Macron. Another name the American newspaper mentions is that of Charles Michel, President of the European Council. The prime ministers of Pakistan, Egypt and Morocco are also mentioned. Mohammed VI, the king of Morocco, may also have been overheard.
The Washington Post and other news organizations can say with certainty that their phone numbers are on the list. Together they called a large number of numbers on the list. Usually, there was no answer, in some cases, the telephone number appeared to have changed. Some did answer and confirmed their identity.
It is impossible to say whether the above-mentioned persons were actually bugged. To do this, the device must be physically examined. This is the only way to determine whether the device has been hacked or not. Research by the Security Lab of Amnesty International shows that of 67 mobile phones examined, at least 37 have been infected with Pegasus, or an attempt has been made to do so.
The NSO Group denies the allegations and says its software will be used to track down terrorists and criminals and protect national security. “Our technologies are used every day to take down paedophile and drug and sex trafficker networks, locate missing and abducted children, track down survivors trapped under collapsed buildings and protect the airspace from disruptive penetration by dangerous drones,” he said. the company this week in a press statement.
The Israeli company says it only sells its software to security services and “audited governments.” Pegasus claims that it is not used to intimidate, arrest or murder journalists, lawyers and human rights activists. Due to the “baseless allegations”, the company is considering taking legal action and suing authorities for defamation and defamation.
In the meantime, people are not sitting still and are taking measures against the NSO Group. Earlier this week, Amazon removed all online accounts and the Israeli company’s entire infrastructure on Amazon Web Services. She used the content delivery network (CDN) CloudFront to distribute her spy software. “Once we learned of these activities, we acted quickly to shut down the relevant infrastructure and accounts,” an Amazon spokesperson told Motherboard.
Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, on Tuesday called on governments to stop using Pegasus. “The revelations about the apparently widespread use of the Pegasus software to spy on journalists, human rights defenders, politicians and others in various countries are extremely alarming. They seem to confirm some of our worst nightmares about the potential misuse of surveillance technology to illegally undermine people’s human rights,” Bachelet said.
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, called the use of the spy software “completely unacceptable”.
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