Morocco, Egypt and Rwanda are just three of the nations where governments and their leaders are named in an ongoing investigation into the use of Pegasus spyware supplied by Israeli tech company NSO Group.
The Pegasus Project, coordinated by the Paris-based NGO Forbidden Stories, looks at how the technology is used to monitor data and, in repressive countries, to target political opposition leaders, journalists and activists. It is a collaboration of 80 journalists from 17 media organizations in 10 countries, according to partner Amnesty International.
The Forbidden Stories team says its work is based on a leaked database of more than 50,000 phone numbers placed under surveillance by using the Pegasus spyware since 2016. The software surveillance also reaches into South Africa, according to a BBC report on how President Cyril Ramaphosa is one of roughly a dozen world leaders targeted.
NSO Group denies that its products are used inappropriately and said the Forbidden Stories project is “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories” drawn from unidentified sources. That’s especially true of the charge that Pegasus software was linked to the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
“NSO sells it technologies solely to law enforcement and intelligence agencies of vetted governments for the sole purpose of saving lives through preventing crime and terror acts,” the company said in a statement. It added the software is used to break up illegal trafficking rings, find survivors in a natural disaster and other legitimate purposes, and that NSO does not operate the system and has no visibility to the data.
“Simply put, NSO Group is on a life-saving mission, and the company will faithfully execute this mission undeterred, despite any and all continued attempts to discredit it on false grounds,” said NSO.
But Amnesty and the Forbidden Stories journalists believe otherwise, noting that more than 10,000 phone numbers in a two-year window were selected for surveillance in Morocco alone.
“The Pegasus Project lays bare how NSO’s spyware is a weapon of choice for repressive governments,” said Agnès Callamard, head of Amnesty International. “While the company claims its spyware is only used for legitimate criminal and terror investigations, it’s clear its technology facilitates systemic abuse.”
To learn more about the Pegasus Project, check here.