Spanish Prime Minister bugged with Pegasus

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Defense Minister Margarita Robles were tapped through Pegasus last year. Their smartphones were infected with the controversial spy software in April and May. “Significant amounts of” data were intercepted during this process.

Félix Bolaños, the minister of the Presidency, said this in a press conference, various media reported.

‘Unlawful and unauthorized operation’

“It’s not an assumption, these are very serious facts,” said Bolaños. He therefore wants the Spanish judiciary to investigate the “unlawful and unauthorized operation”. It is unclear who is responsible for the spying practices. In any case, the government would not have ordered it. Bolaños speaks of an “external” action, carried out by “unofficial bodies and without the consent of the state”.

According to the Spanish newspaper El País, more than 2.6 gigabytes of information were stolen from the phones. The newspaper cannot say exactly what kind of data is involved.

Catalan and British politicians also hit by Pegasus

The news comes shortly after the announcement that dozens of Catalan politicians have been bugged with Pegasus for years. Between 2017 and 2020, at least 63 leading Catalan politicians, MEPs, legislators, lawyers, activists, journalists and civil society organizations were spied on.

According to the Citizen Lab, these include current Catalan president Pere Aragonès, former regional president Quim Torra, the face of the failed independence movement Carles Puigdemont and former Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT) chairman Artur Mas. British politicians would also have been spied on with the Israeli spyware.

EDPS wants ban on Pegasus

The eavesdropping software that has been used by the Spanish Prime Minister and his Defense Minister is Pegasus. This is an espionage program developed by NSO Group. The software collects all digital communications on a device, including photos, videos, documents, location data, and phone numbers. You can also use the program to record phone calls, listen to the microphone and secretly take screenshots and video recordings.

French President Emmanuel Macron and the King of Morocco have also spied on Pegasus in the past. The former Belgian Prime Minister and current President of the European Council Charles Michel would also have been tapped.

Their names were on a list of 50,000 phone numbers on which Pegasus was allegedly installed. Seventeen news organizations, human rights organization Amnesty International and journalistic platform Forbidden Stories managed to get their hands on this list last year. Due to privacy and security risks, the European privacy watchdog EDPS (European Data Protection Supervisor) called for a ban on Pegasus.

European Parliament puts Pegasus under a microscope

WhatsApp and Apple, among others, have filed lawsuits against NSO Group in the past, but without success. At the end of March, the European Parliament announced that a commission of inquiry led by Sophie in ‘t Veld (D66) is looking into the matter. “There is clear evidence that governments are abusing Pegasus against the democratic opposition,” she said, announcing her role as chair of the inquiry.

Together with 37 MEPs, In ‘t Veld will check whether the Israeli company’s spyware has been used to eavesdrop on European politicians. In addition to Macron and Michel, European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders and four other members of the European Commission are also said to have been spied on. A spokesperson could not confirm this.

The inquiry committee will present its findings to the European Parliament in one year’s time.

NSO Group threatens lawsuits

NSO Group has been defending itself against accusations of espionage for years and denies all accusations. The company says it only sells its software to “audited governments” to track down terrorists and criminals in the context of national security. In its own words, the software is not being misused to wiretap, intimidate, arrest or murder journalists, lawyers and human rights activists.

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. said a spokesman in the past.

The Israeli company last year threatened to take legal action against these “baseless allegations”. That has not happened to date.

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