Politicians, journalists and human rights activists are believed to be targeted by Israeli spyware company NSO Group in the interest of its government clients, media reports on Monday.
A list of more than 50,000 phone numbers was allegedly selected for potential surveillance as those of people of interest by government clients of NSO Group since 2016. That was leaked to major international news outlets.
Pegasus, the group’s phone-hacking spyware, infects iPhones and Andriod devices to enable to extract data, including messages, photos, videos, emails and record calls, and even to secretly activate cameras and microphones.
Paris-based nonprofit journalism organisation Forbidden Stories and human rights group Amnesty International initially accessed the list and then shared it with 16 media partners across the world, including the Guardian, the Washington Post, Le Monde and Suddeutsche Zeitung.
More than 80 journalists have worked on the investigation over months.
The revelations found more than 1000 individuals, including 189 journalists, over 600 politicians or government officials, 85 human rights activists, 64 business executives, and Arab royal family members, targeted by Pegasus.
India and Mexico
According to the investigation, Rahul Gandhi, the most prominent political rival of the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, was selected as a potential target under surveillance.
Mexico’s president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and his family members, aides and doctors, were also the possible targets when he was an opposition politician.
Meanwhile, the phone numbers of murdered Mexcian journalist Cecilio Pineda Birto, Financial Times editor Roula Khalaf, and some senior figures at Indian news website The Wire, were targeted to be political surveillance.
Ten governments have been identified as the clients of NSO Group, including Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Hungary, India, and the United Arab Emirates. These governments were believed to involve in the selection of the targets.
NSO Group denied the accusations, and the claims made in the report are based on “misleading interpretation of leaked data from accessible and overt basic information, such as HLR Lookup services, which have no bearing on the list of the customers’ targets of Pegasus or any other NSO products.”
NSO stated that it only sells its spyware to governments for preventing serious crimes and terror acts, and the group “does not operate the system and has no visibility to the data.”