French President Emmanuel Macron has changed his mobile phone and phone number in light of the Pegasus spyware case, a presidency official said yesterday, in one of the first concrete actions announced in relation to the scandal.
“He’s got several phone numbers. This does not mean he has been spied on. It’s just additional security,” the official told Reuters.
Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said the president’s security protocols were being adapted in light of the incident.
Macron called an urgent national security meeting yesterday to discuss the reports about Pegasus’ use in France.
Evidence of an attempted hacking was found on the phone of former environment minister and close Macron ally Francois de Rugy.
A global outcry was triggered when several international media organisations reported that the Pegasus spyware was used in hacking smartphones belonging to journalists, human rights activists and government officials in several countries.
In Israel, where NSO Group, which sells the Pegasus software, is based, a senior lawmaker said a parliamentary panel may look into spyware export restrictions.
NSO says its software is used to fight crime and terrorism and has denied any wrongdoing.
“Obviously we’re taking (this) very seriously,” Attal told reporters hours after an emergency cabinet meeting focused on the Pegasus allegations.
Le Monde newspaper and Radio France broadcaster reported on Tuesday that the French president’s phone was on a list of potential targets for surveillance by Morocco.
The two media said that they did not have access to Macron’s phone and could not verify if his phone had indeed been spied on.
Morocco has rejected these allegations.
Israel has appointed an inter-ministerial team to assess reports based on an investigation by 17 media organisations that said Pegasus had been used in attempted or successful hacks of smartphones using malware that enables the extraction of messages, records calls and secretly activates microphones.
NSO has rejected the reporting by the media partners as “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories”.
Reuters has not independently verified the reporting.
“We certainly have to look anew at this whole subject of licences granted by DECA,” Ram Ben-Barak, head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, told Israel’s Army Radio, referring to the government-run Defence Export Controls Agency.
The Israeli government team “will conduct its checks, and we will be sure to look into the findings and see if we need to fix things here”, said Ben-Barak.
A former deputy chief of Mossad, he said that proper use of Pegasus had “helped a great many people”.
The DECA is within Israel’s defence ministry and oversees NSO exports.
Both the ministry and the firm have said that Pegasus is meant to be used to track only terrorists or criminals, and that all foreign clients are vetted governments.
NSO says it does not know the specific identities of people against whom clients use Pegasus.
If it receives a complaint of Pegasus having been misused by a client, NSO can retroactively acquire the target lists and, should the complaint prove true, unilaterally shut down that client’s software, the company says.
Other world leaders among those whose phone numbers the news organisations said were on a list of possible targets include Pakistani Prime Minister Imram Khan and Morocco’s King Mohamed VI.
Morocco has filed meanwhile defamation claims against Amnesty International and a French NGO, lawyers for the government said yesterday.
Paris prosecutors opened their own inquiry this week into the claims by Amnesty and the French media nonprofit Forbidden Stories, revealed by media outlets including the Washington Post and French daily Le Monde.
They are based on a leaked list of 50,000 phone numbers allegedly targeted by the Pegasus cellphone surveillance programme from Israel’s NSO Group.
“The Moroccan state ... wants all possible light cast on these false allegations from these two organisations, who make claims without any concrete or demonstrative evidence whatsoever,” the lawyer, Olivier Baratelli, said in a statement.
A first hearing is set for October 8 in Paris, though a trial might not open for another two years.
In Hungary, prosecutors said they had opened a probe into clams that the government used the Israeli-made spyware to target hundreds of phone numbers, including those of journalists.
“The task of the investigation is to establish the facts and to determine whether and, if so, what crime has taken place,” the Budapest Regional Investigation Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement.
The probe followed several complaints and was “into the so-called Pegasus case, under the suspicion of the crime of gathering unauthorised secret information”, it added.
Hungary was the only EU country listed as a potential user of the spyware, with hundreds of targets including journalists, lawyers and other public figures.
Hungarian officials have dismissed the allegations, calling them “unsubstantiated”.
Interior Minister Sandor Pinter said earlier this week that Hungary “has always acted in accordance with the law”, while Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto has insisted that the government “has no knowledge of such data collection”.
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel meanwhile urged tighter international controls on the trade in spyware.
Asked about the reports of widespread use of the Pegasus software, Merkel said it was “important” that “software configured in this way should not land in the wrong hands”.
She called for “very restrictive conditions” on the trade in such spyware in countries in which surveillance operations are not tightly regulated, for example by independent courts.
Mexico is investigating suspected corruption linked to the $32mn purchase of Pegasus malware allegedly used by authorities to spy on political opponents and journalists, a government agency said on Wednesday.
Some 15,000 Mexican smartphone numbers were among more than 50,000 believed to have been selected by clients of Israeli firm NSO, which developed Pegasus.
They include numbers linked to 25 journalists and even leftist president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s inner circle before he took office.
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