Espionage

Paris prosecutor to investigate Pegasus spyware targeting French journalists

A woman using a phone in front of a building in Tel Aviv housing the Israeli NSO group, which makes the Pegasus spyware, which has been accused by journalists of being used by autocratic regimes to spy on them.
A woman using a phone in front of a building in Tel Aviv housing the Israeli NSO group, which makes the Pegasus spyware, which has been accused by journalists of being used by autocratic regimes to spy on them. © Jack Guez/AFP

The Paris prosecutor's office has opened an investigation into allegations by French news website Mediapart and two of its journalists that they had been spied on by Morocco using the Pegasus spyware, which has allegedly been used to hack the devices of journalists, government officials and activists around the world.

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The prosecutor's statement said Tuesday that it opened a probe after receiving a complaint by Mediapart on Monday, following the publication of an article in Le Monde about the use of the Pegasus software on French and Moroccan journalists.

The statement does not mention Morocco, but it lays out 10 different charges, including fraudulent access to personal electronic devices, breach of personal privacy, and criminal association.

The investigative weekly Le Canard Enchaine is set to file its own complaint.

A consortium of international media organizations, lead by the Paris-based non-profit journalism group Forbidden Stories, accessed a list of 50,000 phone numbers identified as persons of interest for clients of the Israeli company NSO, which makes the Pegasus spyware and licenses it to governments

It was unclear how many devices were actually targeted, though reporters were able to identify at least 1,000 numbers, including government officials, and at least 180 journalists in 20 countries

Among them were Mediapart founder Edwy Plenel, along with several other French journalists, who say they were targeted by Moroccan intelligence services.

Morocco published an official statement in which it “categorically rejects and condemns these false and baseless allegations”, and says it has never acquired software to infiltrate communication devices..

NSO said its product was intended to be used by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism and crime, and denied the reporting by the consortium that the software had been used to target journalists.

(with wires)

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