France denies talks to buy Israeli Pegasus spyware

By Mathieu Pollet
Nov. 24, 2021

France allegedly negotiated with Israeli-owned NSO group to buy its Pegasus spying software, according to the MIT Technology Review. Talks reportedly broke down after revelations in July identified Emmanuel Macron as one of the software’s many targets. Contacted by EURACTIV France, the Elysée denied this information. Mathieu Pollet reports from Paris.

Gathered in a consortium called “Project Pegasus”, Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International, in partnership with 17 media outlets, revealed last July that the Israeli firm NSO Group made highly sophisticated hacking software available to a dozen governments and within a somewhat dubious legal framework.

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At the same time, according to the MIT Technology Review, the French government was finalising negotiations with the company to get its hands on the software.

After learning that Emmanuel Macron and many members of his government in 2019 were on the list of 50,000 telephone numbers that NSO would offer to its customers, Paris reportedly put an end to the discussions and abandoned the acquisition, “just a few days before the sale was set to take place”, the American magazine reported.

Contacted by EURACTIV France, the Elysée denied this information.

In early November, Fidesz MP Lajos Kósa, the Hungarian parliament’s defence and law enforcement committee chairman, admitted that Budapest was one of the Israeli firm’s clients. According to national media, Hungary is not the only European country to have purchased the software, as Germany and Spain have also done so.

>Also readPilot-journalist targeted with spyware purchased by Hungarian secret service

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The pressure on NSO Group has never really faded away. The company was added on 3 November to the US Department of Commerce’s blacklist for “engaging in activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States”.

“We look forward to presenting the full information regarding how we have the world’s most rigorous compliance and human rights programs that are based the American values we deeply share, which already resulted in multiple terminations of contacts with government agencies that misused our products”, stated the company after Washington’s decision.

The company also had to revise its IPO plans and its newly appointed boss in early November. In an attempt to improve the company’s image, he left a dozen days after taking office, following the American decision.

On Tuesday (23 November), Apple struck the latest blow with a lawsuit against NSO Group in order “to hold it accountable for the surveillance and targeting of Apple users”, and in the hope of getting “a permanent injunction to ban NSO Group from using any Apple software, services, or devices.”

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