27.07.2021 Europe

Israel minister to discuss Pegasus scandal in France visit

LISTEN JUL 27, 2021

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz will meet his French counterpart in Paris this week for talks that will include an "update" on the Pegasus spyware scandal, his office said Tuesday. 

A ministry statement said Gantz will leave Wednesday for talks with French Defence Minister Florence Parly on topics including the crisis in Lebanon, nuclear negotiations with Iran and the Pegasus malware made by Israeli firm NSO, which was allegedly used to target President Emmanuel Macron to the point that he had to change his phone and number.

Pegasus, which is able to switch on a phone's camera or microphone and harvest its data, is at the centre of a storm after a list of about 50,000 potential surveillance targets was leaked to human rights groups.

Amnesty International and French media nonprofit Forbidden Stories collaborated with a clutch of media companies, including the Washington Post, the Guardian and Le Monde, to analyse and publish the list.

Smartphone hacking software
Israel's defence ministry must approve NSO exports given the sensitive nature of the sector.

Israel's defence establishment has set up a committee to review the firm's business, including the process through which export licenses are granted.

The Pegasus spyware is only marketed to states or government agencies, with the approval of the Israeli government.

Founded in 2010 by Israelis Shalev Hulio and Omri Lavie, NSO Group is based in the Israeli hi-tech hub of Herzliya, near Tel Aviv.

On its website, NSO states that it "creates technologies that help government agencies prevent and investigate terrorism and crime, saving thousands of lives around the world" and rejects all allegations. 

Pegasus's list of alleged targets includes at least 180 journalists, 600 politicians, 85 human rights activists and 65 business leaders.

NSO insists its software is only intended for use in fighting terrorism and other crimes, and says it exports to 45 countries.

(With agencies)

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