NSO Group: ‘At least five European countries use Pegasus’

At least five European member states use the Israeli espionage software Pegasus. It is unknown which countries are involved. We do know that NSO Group, the developer of the eavesdropping software, has cancelled the contract with one of these countries.

Chaim Gelfand, the legal adviser at NSO Group, told the PEGA committee on Tuesday, Politico writes. This committee, made up of 38 members of the European Parliament, investigates the use of spy software in the EU.

Journalists and politicians massively bugged with Pegasus

Pegasus is an espionage product of NSO Group. With the eavesdropping program, intelligence and security services can extract all imaginable information from smartphones and other infected devices. In addition to digital communications (texts, emails, and WhatsApp messages), the software also collects photos, videos, phone numbers, location data, and stored documents. It is also possible to listen in on telephone conversations and to make screenshots and videos unnoticed.

In short, Pegasus is invasive software that seriously invades our privacy and security. Last July, 17 news organizations reported that the software was used to wiretap at least 189 journalists between 2016 and June 2019. Their phone numbers were on a list that listed a total of 50,000 numbers.

Prominent figures such as French President  Emmanuel Macron, President of the European Council Charles Michel and King of Morocco Mohammed VI are also said to have been spied on with Pegasus. It was recently revealed that Pegasus was also being used to wiretap Catalan and Spanish politicians, including the Spanish Minister of Defense and the Minister of the Presidency. The case was so serious and extensive that the head of the Spanish secret service was fired.

NSO Group: ‘Mistakes have been made’

In March of this year, the European Parliament decided that the bottom stone had to be raised. A commission of inquiry called PEGA is looking at the extent to which European countries are using Pegasus to secretly spy on politicians, journalists and human rights activists. The Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld is the chairman of this committee. The committee will present its findings early next year.

Last Tuesday, the investigative committee spoke with Chain Gelfand, the legal counsel of NSO Group. During the hearing, he said at least five European countries are using the Israeli company’s spyware. He kept to himself which countries were concerned. Gelfand promised to come up with a “more concrete number” later. He admits that “mistakes were made”. That is why the contract with one EU Member State has been terminated. Again, the counsel refused to say which country it is. He says his company has lost a lot of revenue because of this.

Call for international rules and regulation

“We’re trying to do the right thing and that’s more than other companies in the industry,” Gelfand told PEGA committee members. “Every customer we sell to, we do due diligence in advance to assess the rule of law in that country. But working on the basis of publicly available information will never be enough.”

According to Politico, there was a tense atmosphere during the hearing. The members of the Commission of Inquiry were annoyed that Gelfand brushed off some questions and dismissed them as unimportant. As a result, accusations flew back and forth. To break the hostile atmosphere, Gelfand suggested creating international rules to regulate spyware. Only countries that agree to these rules would then be allowed to use spy software like Pegasus. “There is a lot to do, so we are asking for an international standard,” he added.

NSO Group ends up on American blacklist

NSO Group’s espionage software would also be used in our country. De Volkskrant recently wrote that the General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) used the controversial spyware to eavesdrop on Ridouan Taghi, the main suspect in the Marengo trial. The security service and NSO Group do not want to confirm this.

The Israeli company maintains that Pegasus was developed to ensure national security. Our technologies are used daily to take down paedophile and drug and sex traffickers networks, locate missing and kidnapped children, locate survivors trapped under collapsed buildings and protect the airspace from disruptive penetration by dangerous drones. the company’s official statement reads.

The US has blacklisted NSO Group. This means that American companies are not allowed to do business with the Israeli company. WhatsApp, Apple and Amnesty International, among others, have sued NSO Group and demanded an independent investigation into the company’s working methods.

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