A megascandal of computer espionage provokes an international wave of indignation

“If the recent allegations about the use of Pegasus are only partially true, then a red line was crossed over and over again with total impunity,” said the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet yesterday. “Without a regulatory framework that respects human rights, there are too many risks that these tools will be misused to intimidate critics and silence dissenters,” he added.

Meanwhile, the president of the European Commission – the executive body of the European Union – Ursula von der Leyen, said that this scandal “has to be verified, but if that were the case, it is completely unacceptable.”

“We are not just talking 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. “This is a major attack against critical journalism,” he said.

An investigation published by 17 international media reinforced suspicions about the Israeli company NSO Group 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 telephones of 180 journalists, 600 politicians, 85 human rights activists and 65 businessmen, according to an 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 News, among others.

Installed on a mobile phone, this malicious program –malware– from the company NSO Group makes it possible to recover text messages, photos, contacts and even listen to the owner’s conversations through the device’s microphone.

NSO, created in 2011, denied the allegations, calling them “wrong 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. Correspondents from large international media such as Wall Street Journal, CNN, France 24, El País and the AFP agency, among others, also make up this list.

The list includes numbers of politicians, including two European heads of government, whose names will be announced in the coming days, according to journalists who revealed the case.

According to the revelations, four Arab countries are involved in the scandal: the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The first three of them normalized their ties with Israel in 2020 and then there was also a certain thaw between Riyadh and that country.

Some 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 Saudi agents.

The governments of Morocco and Hungary – a member country of the EU – denied any role in the plot. So did the one in India, where Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the opposition, appears as one of the spied on.

On the other hand, relatives and collaborators of the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, would have been spied on between 2016 and 2017, when he was leading the opposition to Enrique Peña Nieto.

Espionage in Mexico also targeted at least 25 journalists, one of whom, Cecilio Pineda, was assassinated in March 2017 after denouncing alleged links between politicians and criminals in the southern state of Guerrero, according to the media consortium.

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