Israel tells France it takes spyware allegations ‘seriously’

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Israel is taking serious allegations that spyware developed by an Israeli company has been used against public figures around the world, Defense Minister Benny Gantz told his French counterpart on Wednesday during a visit to Paris.

Israeli Defense Chief Benny Gantz met French Defense Minister Florence Parly in part to share initial findings from an Israeli government assessment of exports to France by NSO Group, which sells the Pegasus spyware.

A French government spokesman said Parly would “seize the opportunity” to ask Gantz what his government knows about the NSO’s activities, which have emerged as a diplomatic obligation on Israel.

At Parly’s request, Gantz ” commented on the matter from the NSO and told her that Israel is taking the allegations seriously,” according to a statement from his office.

“Israel grants cyber licenses only to nation-states and only to be used to fight terrorism and crime,” the statement said.

An investigation published by 17 media organizations led by the Paris-based nonprofit journalism group Forbidden Stories said the spyware had been used in attempted successful hacks into the smartphones of journalists, government officials and human rights activists.

Macron’s phone was on a list of possible targets for surveillance by Morocco, which used the Pegasus software, French newspaper Le Monde reported. Macron has called for an investigation.

Israel has set up a senior inter-ministerial team to investigate spyware allegations.

Gantz told Parly that “representatives studying the matter have come to the NSO today and that Israel is investigating the matter with the utmost seriousness.”

NSO has said the report on Pegasus was “full of false assumptions and unconfirmed theories”. Pegasus is only intended for use by government intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism and crime, the company said.

NSO says it doesn’t know the specific identities of people against whom customers use Pegasus, but if it receives complaints, it can obtain the target lists and unilaterally shut down the software to customers found to be abusive.

An Israeli official said the Defense Ministry would support such actions by the NSO if any abuse was identified.

(REUTERS)