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New Delhi: In order to stem the diplomatic fallout over Pegasus spyware expose, the Israeli government has apparently offered to ban hacking of French mobile phone numbers in any deal between an Israeli firm and a third country, Axios reported on Thursday.
The proposal was in the backdrop of the revelations made by the Pegasus Project, an international consortium of journalists, including The Wire. Based on a leaked database acquired by Paris-based journalism non-profit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International, the media groups reported that Pegasus, Israel firm NSO’s flagship spyware, was being used to target journalists, critics and world leaders, rather than terrorists and criminals.
The NSO Group, which claims to sell Pegasus only to governments, has denied that the list has anything to do with the company.
Among the list of 50,000 potential targets, the project partners found the numbers of French President Emmanuel Macron, French ministers, diplomats and journalists. It was believed that the government client for the majority of the French targets was Morocco, which has vehemently denied the allegations and sued for defamation.
As a result of the articles, Macron called up the new Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett to seek an explanation. French minister for armed forces, Florence Parly, had reportedly sought “clarifications” from her Israeli counterpart Benny Gantz, who said that Tel Aviv was taking seriously the reports of Pegasus spyware for hacking.
In an interview with Le Monde, a Pegasus Project partner, Parly had confirmed that she had asked for a commitment from Israeli authorities that French phone numbers will not be targeted by Pegasus, as was done with the US and the UK numbers. “We got a response telling us that this would be the case. I can’t tell you anything more,” Parly said in early September.
Conducting their own investigation, French security agencies found traces of Pegasus spyware on the phones of five current French cabinet ministers, investigative website Mediapart reported last month.
Axios has now reported that Israeli national security adviser Eyal Hulata “secretly visited Paris several days ago for talks with his counterparts at the Élysée aimed at ending the crisis around the alleged use of Pegasus spyware developed by Israeli firm NSO to hack the cell phones of President Emmanuel Macron and other top French officials”.
In his meeting with his French counterpart Emmanuel Bonne, Hulata presented a proposal, which included “a commitment to ban the hacking of French mobile phone numbers in any future spyware deal between an Israeli firm and a third country”.
The meeting was also confirmed by Le Monde newspaper to the Elysée, the French Presidential palace. The French government said that it was a “useful session for strategic dialogue” between the two countries, where France “asked for guarantees in the NSO affair and is working on it with Israel”.
The Pegasus Project is a collaborative investigation that involves more than 80 journalists from 17 news organisations in 10 countries coordinated by Forbidden Stories with the technical support of Amnesty International’s Security Lab. Read all our coverage here.