Morocco and Hungary deny reports of infiltrating phones with Pegasus spyware

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Morocco and Hungary denied media reports on Monday that they had used classified software to infiltrate the smartphones of investigative journalists and other public figures.

Morocco made the first denial. It “categorically rejects” claims that its intelligence agencies have used Israeli spyware Pegasus to monitor critics at home and abroad, a government statement said.

Rabat said it had “never acquired computer software to infiltrate communications equipment” and denied that it had “infiltrated the telephones of various national and international public figures and heads of international organizations through computer software”.

Hungary issued a similar rejection.

“The government is not aware of this type of data collection,” Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said at a news conference, adding that the Hungarian civil intelligence service has “not used the Pegasus software in any way”.

A joint investigation by several Western media outlets said on Sunday that numerous activists, journalists, executives and politicians around the world had been spied on using software developed by Israeli company NSO.

The media, including The Washington Post, The Guardian and Le Monde, linked NSO Group to a list of tens of thousands of smartphone numbers, including those belonging to activists, journalists, business leaders and politicians around the world.

‘Great surprise’

Many songs on the list were clustered in 10 countries, including Morocco. Hungary was the only EU country on the list of leaked phone numbers.

Rabat expressed “great surprise” at the reports.

These are “false allegations without any basis,” the statement said.

“Morocco… guarantees the secrecy of personal communications… to all citizens and foreign residents of Morocco,” it added.

According to reports, telephones in Hungary included two investigative journalists, the owner of a news site criticizing the government, an opposition mayor and several lawyers.

Janos Stummer of the opposition party Jobbik, head of the parliamentary National Security Committee, demanded “consequences”.

Stummer attempted to convene the committee to question intelligence chiefs, and Szijjarto said the intelligence chief would attend the meeting if called.

However, the commission’s vice-chair, Janos Halasz, a member of Orban’s ruling Fidesz with a majority on the commission, said the body did not need to meet.

The “left-wing” press releases were “baseless,” according to Halasz.

The National Association of Hungarian Journalists (MUOSZ) said it was “shocked” by the revelations.

“If this is the case, it is unacceptable, outrageous and illegal, full information must be made public immediately,” the association said in a statement.

The reports “bring disgrace to the country,” said Budapest mayor Gergely Karacsony, who hopes to run against Orban in the general election next year.

“The government owes answers,” he said.

Pegasus is a highly invasive tool that can turn on a target’s phone camera and microphone, as well as access data on the device, effectively turning a phone into a pocket spy.

In some cases, it can be installed without tricking a user into starting a download.

The NSO denies having committed anything.

( Jowharwith AFP)