This article first appeared in Vozpopuli on July 18, 2021.
A data leak revealed by several international media has revealed that journalists, activists and lawyers around the world have been spied on with Pegasus, a software produced by the Israeli company NSO and sold to governments around the world. Mexico, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates are the countries that have used it the most.
It is a software capable of infecting iPhone and Android devices to secretly access phone messages, photos, emails, calls or contacts. It is also capable of activating microphones without the knowledge of the affected person.
The investigation, in which 16 international reference media have participated, reveals that the software’s database collects the cell phones of 50,000 “persons of interest” for the aforementioned Israeli company’s clients since 2016. Some 15,000 in Mexico and around 10,000 in both Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.
Not all of those 50,000 phones have been infected with the software, the researchers note, although they warn that a forensic analysis conducted on a small sample of those numbers has evidenced that more than half of the devices contain traces of Pegasus spying.
Officially, the program has been sold to at least a dozen countries with authoritarian regimes: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Hungary, India and the United Arab Emirates. The Israeli company has insisted that the software is intended only to target criminals and terrorists.
However, the investigation carried out by the journalistic consortium will reveal over the course of several publications that the list of people affected includes hundreds of businessmen, religious figures, academics, NGO employees and politicians, including government ministers and presidents. There are also more than 180 journalists from different media.
One of them is the editor of the Financial Times, Roula Khalaf. There are many more from other media, such as CNN, The New York Times, The Economist, Associated Press or Reuters. As far as Spain is concerned, professionals from the newspaper El País also appear on the list.
The first information of this investigation states that the cell phones of at least 26 Mexican journalists appear on the leaked list, including that of Cecilio Pineda Birto, murdered in 2017, according to information published by The Guardian, one of the media that make up the consortium that is revealing these facts.
Also the Hungarian government presided by Viktor Orbán has made use of Pegasus to access the communications of at least two journalists. One of them is the well-known reporter Szabolcs Panyi, with sources in the diplomatic spheres as well as in national security circles.