France launches probe into spying on media by Moroccan intelligence services

NSO Group

PROSECUTORS IN FRANCE HAVE opened an investigation into claims that the intelligence services of Morocco spied on French journalists’ phones, using a controversial surveillance software marketed by an Israeli firm. Since 2018, IntelNews has covered the controversial spyware, Pegasus, and its maker, NSO Group Technologies, an Israeli digital surveillance company based in Herzliya, a small coastal town located north of Tel Aviv.

The Pegasus surveillance software is able to install itself on targeted telephones without requiring their users clicking a link, or downloading an application. It then provides the spying party with near-complete control over the targeted telephone. Among other things, it gives the spying party the ability to browse through the telephone’s contents, including photographs and videos, record telephone conversations, as well as activate the telephone’s built-in microphone and camera at any time, without its user being aware that these devices are on.

Earlier this week, an investigative report published by a consortium of newspapers, including The Washington Post (United States), Le Monde (France) and The Guardian (United Kingdom), claimed that Pegasus’ victims number in their tens of thousands. Reporters said they had analyzed a leaked list of 50,000 victims of Pegasus, which include senior government officials, lawyers, labor leaders, human-rights activists and investigative journalists in almost every country in the world.

The recent revelations have made headlines in France, where the names of well-known journalists from several newspapers, magazines and news agencies feature on the leaked list of Pegasus’ victims. On Tuesday, the French investigative website Mediapart filed a legal complaint, claiming that two members of its staff, including its founder, Edwy Plenel, had been spied on by the Moroccan intelligence services through the Pegasus software. Another French investigative outlet, the newspaper Le Canard Enchaine, said it would also launch a complaint against the intelligence services of Morocco. More media outlets are expected to follow suit.

NSO Group Technologies denies that its Pegasus software is being used maliciously, and claims that it only sells the software to government agencies who use it in legitimate law enforcement investigations. The government of Morocco also denied the claims against its intelligence agencies, saying that it “never acquired computer software to infiltrate communication devices”.

However, the Office of the Paris Prosecutor said on Tuesday that it had launched an official investigation on the use of the Pegasus software by Moroccan intelligence. In a statement published on its website, the prosecutor’s office said it would examine the complaints by media companies from the perspective of as many as 10 possible charges, including criminal association, fraudulent access to personal electronic devices, and breach of personal privacy.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 July 2021 | Permalink

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