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EU commissioner urges action against abusers of NSO Group’s spyware

Didier Reynders calls on member states to probe alleged use of the Israeli firm’s Pegasus software to illegally spy on rights activists, political rivals and journalists

European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders speaks during a plenary session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, September 15, 2021. (Yves Herman, Pool via AP)
European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders speaks during a plenary session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, September 15, 2021. (Yves Herman, Pool via AP)

The European Union’s Commissioner for Justice called Wednesday for the prosecution of those who have abused the controversial Israeli spyware known as Pegasus, and for the rights of activists, journalists and politicians to be protected.

Didier Reynders said that the European Commission condemned the alleged attempts by national security agencies in various countries to access information on dissidents using NSO Group’s phone tapping software, The Guardian reported.

“Any indication that such intrusion of privacy actually occurred needs to be thoroughly investigated and all responsible for a possible breach have to be brought to justice,” Reynders said at the start of a debate in the European Parliament on the scandal, according to the report.

“This is, of course, the responsibility of each and every member state of the EU, and I expect that in the case of Pegasus, the competent authorities will thoroughly examine the allegations and restore trust,” he added.

In July, a global media consortium published a damning report on how clients of NSO Group have been spying for years on journalists, human rights activists, political dissidents and people close to them, with the hacker-for-hire group directly involved in the targeting. Amnesty International said it confirmed 37 successful Pegasus infections based on a leaked targeting list whose origin was not disclosed.

One case involved tracking of the fiancee of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi just four days after he was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018. The CIA attributed the murder to the Saudi government.

A logo adorns a wall on a branch of the Israeli NSO Group company, near the southern Israeli town of Sapir, August 24, 2021. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

The recent revelations also prompted calls for an investigation into whether Hungary’s right-wing government used Pegasus to secretly monitor critical journalists, lawyers and business figures.

“Let me say right at the start that the commission totally condemns any illegal access to systems or any kind of illegal trapping or interception of community users communications,” Reynders said on Wednesday.

“It’s a crime in the whole of the European Union,” he added.

France is also trying to get to the bottom of allegations that President Emmanuel Macron and members of his government may have been targeted in 2019 by an unidentified Moroccan security service using Pegasus. Morocco, a key French ally, denied those reports and is taking legal action to counter allegations implicating the North African kingdom in the spyware scandal.

NSO has insisted that its software was intended for use only in fighting terrorism and other crimes, and the reported targeting list was not related to the company.

Last week, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid played down criticism of Israel’s regulation of NSO Group but vowed to step up efforts to ensure the company’s controversial spyware doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

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