French prosecutors open probe into alleged media spying using Israeli software

PARIS, France — Prosecutors in Paris said Tuesday they had opened a probe into allegations that Moroccan intelligence services used the Israeli malware Pegasus to spy on several French journalists.

The investigation will examine 10 charges, including whether there was a breach of personal privacy, fraudulent access to personal electronic devices, and criminal association.

Investigative website Mediapart filed a legal complaint on Monday, and investigative newspaper Le Canard Enchaine is set to follow suit, over the spying claims, which Morocco has denied.

A collaborative investigation by The Washington Post, The Guardian, Le Monde and other media outlets, based on a leaked list of 50,000 phone numbers, claimed Monday that spying worldwide using the malware from the NSO Group had been far more extensive than previously thought.

Mediapart revealed that the phones of its founder Edwy Plenel and one of its journalists were among those targeted by Moroccan intelligence services.

Other journalists working for French media companies were allegedly targeted by Moroccan security services, including employees of Le Monde and Agence France-Presse.

Morocco denied the claims, saying it “never acquired computer software to infiltrate communication devices.”

Israel’s Defense Ministry said Monday that if it finds that the NSO Group violated the terms of its export licenses, it will “take appropriate action.”

Pegasus is a spyware tool sold by NSO that it says is being used by dozens of governmental clients. The software installs itself on a phone without requiring users to click a link, and gives the hacker complete access to the entire contents of the phone, as well as the ability to use its cameras and microphone undetected.

On the leaked list of phone numbers were people targeted by the governments of Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Hungary, India, and the United Arab Emirates.

It included 189 journalists, 85 human rights activists and several heads of state. Among the journalists were employees of The Associated Press, Reuters, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Le Monde and The Financial Times.

NSO refuses to reveal which countries have purchased the software, and it has denied the majority of the claims made in the reporting.

Last year, an Israeli court dismissed an Amnesty lawsuit seeking to strip NSO of its export license, citing insufficient evidence.

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