South Africa: Pegasus Project - Macron Among World Leaders Selected As Potential Targets of NSO Spyware

President Cyril Ramaphosa address the nation on Sunday, 11 July 2021, on developments in the country’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
press release
  • South African's Cryil Ramaphosa and Pakistan's Imran Khan also among 14 world leaders identified as potential targets
  • The list contained phone numbers for more than 600 government officials and politicians from 34 countries
  • 'It's clear that even those at the highest levels of power cannot escape the sinister spread of NSO's spyware' - Agnes Callamard

New evidence has revealed that the phone numbers for 14 heads of state, including French President Emmanuel Macron, Pakistan's Imran Khan and South Africa's Cyril Ramaphosa, as well as hundreds of government officials, were selected as people of interest by clients of spyware company NSO Group.

Amnesty International's Secretary General, Agnes Callamard, said:

"The unprecedented revelation that the phones of at least fourteen heads of state may have been hacked using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware should send a chill down the spine of world leaders.

"We have long known that activists and journalists are targets of this surreptitious phone-hacking - but it's clear that even those at the highest levels of power cannot escape the sinister spread of NSO's spyware.

"NSO Group can no longer hide behind the claim that its spyware is only used to fight crime - it appears that Pegasus is also the spyware of choice for those wanting to snoop on foreign governments.

"The damning revelations of the Pegasus Project underscore the urgent need for strong regulation to reign in a wild west surveillance industry. States must implement a global moratorium on the export, sale, transfer and use of surveillance equipment until a robust human rights-compliant regulatory framework is in place.

"NSO Group must immediately stop selling its equipment to countries with a track record of putting human right defenders and journalists under unlawful surveillance.

"The Israeli government should also not authorise licenses for the export of NSO Group's cybersurveillance technology if there is a substantial risk it could be used for human rights violations."

About the Pegasus Project

NSO Group's spyware has been used to facilitate human rights violations around the world on a massive scale, according to a major investigation into the leak of 50,000 phone numbers of potential surveillance targets. These include heads of state, activists and journalists, including Jamal Khashoggi's family.

The Pegasus Project is a ground-breaking collaboration by more than 80 journalists from 17 media organisations in 10 countries coordinated by Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based media non-profit, with the technical support of Amnesty International, who conducted cutting- edge forensic tests on mobile phones to identify traces of the spyware.

Washington Post, part of the consortium, revealed today the phone numbers for 14 heads of state were included in the list as people of interest. It includes the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, France's Emmanuel Macron, Iraq's Barham Salih, South Africa's Cyril Ramaphosa, Egypt's Mostafa Madbouly, Pakistan's Imran Khan, Morocco's Saad-Eddine El Ohtmani, Lebanon's Saad Hariri, Uganda's Ruhakana Rugunda, and Belgium's Charles Michel. The list contained phone numbers for more than 600 government officials and politicians from 34 countries.

Amnesty was unable to conduct forensic analysis on the phones of world leaders to confirm whether they were targeted or if spyware was successfully installed.

NSO has denied that Macron and Mohammed VI ever appeared on a target list for clients. The company insists that its spyware is only intended for use against terrorists and serious criminals and has reiterated that it will "investigate all credible claims of misuse" and "take strong action" where such allegations prove correct.

Israeli surveillance giant NSO Group is bankrolled by major private equity firm Novalpina Capital with numerous investors behind them. It was previously bankrolled by Francisco Partners. Pension firms in the UK and US also have a stake in the company.

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