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Reporting on reach of Israeli spyware Pegasus wins EU journalism prize

European Parliament says work by consortium of journalists behind investigation into Herzliya-based NSO Group ‘shows how this technology has been systematically abused for years’

Congress party workers during a protest accusing Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government of using military-grade spyware to monitor political opponents, journalists and activists in New Delhi, India, on July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup, File)
Congress party workers during a protest accusing Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government of using military-grade spyware to monitor political opponents, journalists and activists in New Delhi, India, on July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup, File)

BRUSSELS, Belgium — The consortium of journalists behind the Pegasus Project investigation into malware from Israel-based NSO Group that provided further evidence that it was used to spy on journalists, human rights activists and political dissidents, won the top European Union journalism prize Thursday.

The European Parliament said in a statement that the “unprecedented leak of more than 50,000 phone numbers selected for surveillance by the customers of the Israeli company NSO Group shows how this technology has been systematically abused for years.”

The list was obtained by the Paris-based journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories and the human rights group Amnesty International and shared with 16 news organizations.

Journalists were able to identify more than 1,000 individuals in 50 countries who were allegedly selected by NSO clients for potential surveillance.

They include 189 journalists, more than 600 politicians and government officials, at least 65 business executives, 85 human rights activists and several heads of state, according to The Washington Post, a consortium member. The journalists work for organizations including The Associated Press, Reuters, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Le Monde and The Financial Times.

NSO has been accused of selling the spyware to the governments of Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Hungary, India, and the United Arab Emirates, which used it to hack into the phones of dissidents, journalists, and human rights activists.

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

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 month, 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.

The EU’s inaugural prize of 20,000 euros (around $23,000) is named after Daphne Caruana Galizia and is a tribute to the Maltese investigative journalist who was killed in a car bomb attack four years ago.

 

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