The journalism consortium, operating as the Pegasus Project, revealed that the numbers for three presidents, 10 prime ministers and the king of Morocco had all been discovered among the more than 50,000 phone records on the list. None of the world leaders’ devices was forensically examined, but tests of other phones on the list found evidence of an attempted or successful spyware intrusion.
Macron called an emergency cybersecurity meeting Thursday to discuss the revelations, one day after French Prime Minister Jean Castex said the government had ordered a number of investigations.
Macron “takes this matter very seriously,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal told radio broadcaster France Inter.
The French president has changed his mobile phone and phone number following the revelations, a presidential official told Reuters on Thursday. The official noted that Macron has “several phone numbers” and that changing his device and phone number “does not mean he has been spied on. It’s just additional security.”
NSO said in a statement Tuesday that Macron, King Mohammed VI, and some other French and Belgian government officials or diplomats discovered on the list “are not and never have been Pegasus targets.”
The company has said that the inclusion of numbers on the list does not prove that the phones had been selected for surveillance. NSO chief executive Shalev Hulio told The Post on Sunday that the company intended to investigate allegations of misuse concerning Pegasus, which the company licenses to governments for the pursuit of terrorists and major criminals.
“The list is not a list of Pegasus targets or potential targets. The numbers in the list are not related to NSO group in any way. Any claim that a name in the list is necessarily related to a Pegasus target or potential target is erroneous and false,” the company said in a statement Tuesday.
Israel has set up a task force of senior officials to examine the spyware allegations, Reuters reported Wednesday, citing two Israeli sources. The government didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Tuesday at Tel Aviv University’s Cyber Week that Israel is “currently studying” the Pegasus Project revelations about NSO, the Jerusalem Post reported. “We are aware of recent publications regarding the use of systems developed by certain Israeli cyber-companies,” he said.
He said Israel authorizes the export of cyber-products “solely to governments, only for lawful use and exclusively for the purposes of preventing and investigating crime and terrorism,” adding that countries acquiring the systems “must abide by their commitments” to those requirements.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in a statement Tuesday that the group, along with two journalists holding joint French and Moroccan nationality, had filed a complaint with French prosecutors alleging invasion of privacy and other crimes based on the Pegasus allegations.
The complaint “makes it clear that NSO Group’s spyware was used to target” the journalists Omar Brouksy and Maati Monjib, the statement said, adding that the complaint was the first in a series of legal actions that RSF plans to file “in several countries together with journalists who were directly targeted.”
The Pegasus Project has since Sunday detailed the discovery that 37 phones on the list belonging to human rights activists, journalists and private citizens showed signs of having been attacked with NSO’s Pegasus software. NSO has said it provides the software only to government agencies for legitimate law enforcement purposes.
Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based journalism nonprofit, and Amnesty International, a human rights group, had access to the list of more than 50,000 phone numbers concentrated in countries known to surveil their citizens and also known to have been clients of NSO Group.
The purpose of the list is unknown, and NSO has said the phone records have “many legitimate and entirely proper uses having nothing to do with surveillance or with NSO.” Forensic tests of data from 67 phones on the list conducted by Amnesty’s Security Lab found the 37 that showed traces of a Pegasus infection or attempted hack. Tests on the other phones were inconclusive.
Government leaders from the European Union, India, Hungary and other nations on Monday demanded more information as to whether the technology had been abused against innocent people.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that if the investigation’s allegations are confirmed, they would be “completely unacceptable and against any kind of rules we have in the European Union” on press freedom.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said the revelations are “extremely alarming and seem to confirm some of the worst fears about the potential misuse of surveillance technology to illegally undermine people’s human rights.”
The Paris prosecutor’s office opened a probe into spying allegations after receiving complaints by investigative news website Mediapart and two of its reporters, Reuters reported.
French Parliament member Gilles Le Gendre, who presided over Macron’s party from 2018 to 2020, tweeted that he was among the “excellent company” of Pegasus targets. He denounced the “extreme gravity of this large-scale espionage.” François de Rugy, France’s former ecology minister who was also spied on, tweeted Tuesday that he had referred the matter to the public prosecutor and requested a meeting with the Moroccan ambassador in France.
Birnbaum reported from Riga, Latvia. Elizabeth Dwoskin in Jerusalem, Rick Noack in Paris, Kareem Fahim in Istanbul, Rachel Pannett in Sydney, Bryan Pietsch in Seoul and Claire Parker, Aaron Schaffer and Sammy Westfall in Washington contributed to this report.
The Pegasus Project is a collaborative investigation that involves more than 80 journalists from 17 news organizations coordinated by Forbidden Stories with the technical support of Amnesty International’s Security Lab. Read more about this project.