Media, governments, the European Union and human rights organizations expressed their outrage on Monday at the worldwide espionage of activists, journalists and politicians through the Pegasus software of the Israeli company NSO Group.
Installed on a mobile phone, this program allows you to retrieve text messages, photos, contacts and even listen to the conversations of its owner.
This journalistic investigation, published on Sunday by 17 international media, reinforces the suspicions about this Israeli company and is based on a list obtained by the group of journalists France Forbidden Stories and the NGO Amnesty International.
It contains 50,000 phone numbers selected by NSO clients since 2016 for possible espionage.
The list includes the numbers of 180 journalists, 600 politicians, 85 militant human rights defenders or 65 businessmen, according to the investigation carried out by the French newspaper Le Monde, the British newspaper The Guardian, the American The Washington Post and the Mexican media Proceso y Aristegui Noticias, among others.
These media located a good part of the spied numbers in Morocco, Saudi Arabia or Mexico.
"We are not talking only about some rogue states, but about the massive use of an espionage program by at least twenty countries," Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard told the BBC on Monday.
"This is a major attack against critical journalism," he said.
The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said that this scandal "has to be verified, but if that were the case, it is completely unacceptable."
"Freedom of the press is one of the fundamental values of the European Union," added Von der Leyen about a scandal that allegedly affects EU countries, such as Hungary.
Gabriel Attal, spokesman for the French government, also denounced that "these are very shocking events and that, if they are found to be true, they are extremely serious."
- Kashoggi and the Mexican Cecilio Pineda, among those affected -
NSO, created in 2011, has received multiple accusations of collaborating with authoritarian regimes, especially since in 2016 Ahmed Mansoor, an opponent of the United Arab Emirates, warned about this type of practice.
However, the Israeli company always denied these accusations and this time reacted by assuring that they are "erroneous assumptions and unsubstantiated theories."
The French digital medium Mediapart and the investigative weekly Le Canard Enchaîné filed a complaint in Paris, after it became known that several of their journalists were spied on by the Moroccan secret services through Pegasus.
Among the numbers of journalists affected is that of the Mexican Cecilio Pineda Birto, killed a few weeks after being listed in this document.
This list is also made up of correspondents from large international media, such as Wall Street Journal, CNN, France 24, El País or AFP.
Other numbers belonged to women around the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, murdered in 2018 at his country's consulate in Istanbul by a command made up of agents from Saudi Arabia.
- Morocco denies involvement -
Also on the list are numbers of politicians, including two European heads of government, whose names will be announced in the coming days, according to the journalists who revealed the case.
Morocco, one of the countries that allegedly used Pegasus the most according to this investigation, categorically denied on Monday the use of Israeli software by its security services.
The Moroccan government described as "false" these reports that suggest that its security services "infiltrated the telephones of various national and foreign public figures and officials of international organizations through software."
The Hungarian executive also denied any involvement, after Hungary was the only country in the European Union splattered by the recent journalistic revelation.
The journalists of the "Pegasus project" located a part of the holders of these numbers and recovered 67 of these telephones, whose hacking with the NSO Group program was confirmed through a technical study in an Amnesty International laboratory.
Before NSO, other Israeli companies, such as Candiru, were accused of supplying spyware to governments that violate human rights.