WORLD / MID-EAST
Phone numbers leak involves state leaders, royals: report
Israel firm spies on journalists
Published: Jul 19, 2021 05:23 PM
The handout photo by Israeli Government Press Office shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Jerusalem, on Oct. 18, 2019. Netanyahu held meeting with Pompeo in Jerusalem on Friday, the prime minister's office reported. They discussed security matters in the Middle East, focusing on the tension between Turkey and Kurds in northeastern Syria and the Iranian issue. (Amos Ben Gershon-GPO/JINI via Xinhua)

The handout photo by Israeli Government Press Office shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Jerusalem, on Oct. 18, 2019. Netanyahu held meeting with Pompeo in Jerusalem on Friday, the prime minister's office reported. They discussed security matters in the Middle East, focusing on the tension between Turkey and Kurds in northeastern Syria and the Iranian issue. (Amos Ben Gershon-GPO/JINI via Xinhua)


Activists, journalists and politicians around the world have been spied on using cellphone malware developed by a private Israeli firm, reports said Sunday, igniting fears of widespread privacy and rights abuses.

The use of the software, called Pegasus and developed by Israel's NSO group, was reported on by the Washington Post, the Guardian, Le Monde and other news outlets who collaborated on an investigation into a data leak.

The leak was of a list of up to 50,000 phone numbers believed to have been identified as people of interest by clients of NSO since 2016, the reports said.

Among the numbers on the list are those of journalists for media organizations around the world including Agence France-Presse, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, The New York Times, Al Jazeera, France 24, Radio Free Europe, Mediapart, El País, the Associated Press, Le Monde, Bloomberg, the Economist, Reuters and Voice of America, the Guardian said.

Among the numbers found on the list were two belonging to women close to Saudi-born journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered by a Saudi hit squad in 2018. 

The list also included the number of a Mexican freelance journalist who was later murdered at a car wash.

His phone was never found and it was not clear if it had been hacked.

The Washington Post said numbers on the list also belonged to heads of state and prime ministers, members of Arab royal families, diplomats and politicians, as well as activists and business executives.

The list did not identify which clients had entered the numbers on it. 

But the reports said many were clustered in 10 countries including Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The Guardian wrote that the investigation suggests "widespread and continuing abuse" of Pegasus, which NSO says is intended for use against criminals and terrorists.

Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based media nonprofit organization, initially had access to the leak, which they then shared with media organizations.

NSO, a leader in the growing and largely unregulated private spyware industry, has previously pledged to police for abuses of its software.

NSO has called the allegations exaggerated and baseless, according to The Washington Post, and would not confirm its clients' identities.

According to Amnesty International's report in June in 2020 that Moroccan authorities used NSO's Pegasus software to insert spyware onto the cellphone of Omar Radi, a journalist convicted over a social media post.

AFP
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