An investigative group has alleged that French President Emmanuel Macron was among world leaders whose phone was targetted by NSO’s Pegasus spyware.

Earlier this week Israeli surveillance specialist NSO Group denied an allegation that its Pegasus spyware had been used “to facilitate human rights violations around the world on a massive scale.”

That allegation came from the Pegasus Project – a global media consortium of more than 80 journalists around the world, coordinated by Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based media non-profit, with the technical support of Amnesty International.

Heads of State

The Pegasus Project said that it had conducted “cutting-edge forensic tests on mobile phones to identify traces of the spyware.”

NSO’s Pegasus spyware was alleged to be a weapon of choice for repressive governments seeking to silence journalists, attack activists and crush dissent, placing countless lives in peril.

The Pegaus Project also alleged that the NSO spyware was used against heads of state, activists and journalists, including Jamal Khashoggi’s family.

NSO for its part has denied the “false claims” of the media project. It has always said that its surveillance tools are used by governments and law enforcement agencies.

But now the Pegasus Project has gone one step further and named the heads of state that have allegedly been targetted by NSO’s Pegasus, after it examined phone numbers allegedly compromised.

It announced that it had uncovered new evidence that 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 600 government officials and politicians from 34 countries, were selected as people of interest by clients of spyware company NSO Group.

The Washington Post, part of the Pegasus Project consortium, revealed the phone numbers for 14 heads of state included 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.

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

Chilling allegation?

Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnes Callamard said the 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,” said Callamard. “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,” said Callamard. “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,” Callamard added. “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.”


The Times of Israel reported that the Paris prosecutor’s office is investigating the suspected widespread use of spyware made by NSO.

The prosecutor’s office reportedly said in a statement that it opened an investigation into a raft of potential charges, including violation of privacy, illegal use of data and illegally selling spyware.

The Pegasus Project has also alleged that Apple iPhones of thousands of users have been compromised by the spyware.

Merkel hack

President Macron is not the only head of state to have security scares about a possible compromise of their mobile device.

In 2013, the revelations about the surveillance capabilities of the NSA, exposed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden, damaged relations between the United States and its ally Germany.

This was because it had been revealed that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been a target of NSA eavesdropping.

However, it was believed that any attempts to crack her encryption likely failed, thanks to an ongoing agreement with Secusmart to provide BlackBerry phones with heightened security to German agencies and politicians.

President Obama in 2014 responded to claims that US spies had tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s phone – but his denials did not convince German politicians and media at the time.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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