Revelations that scores of journalists have been spied on by governments using NSO Group spyware have inflamed critics around the world, and hastened calls for investigations into the spying allegations.
Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as Amlo, whose family, cardiologist, and political advisers had phone numbers in the leaked list while he was running for office, pledged to cancel any outstanding government contracts with the NSO Group.
That call came as Indian opposition politicians disrupted parliament on Tuesday to demand a full investigation into the government’s alleged use of Pegasus spyware on people who appeared in list, including Indian citizens, politicians, journalists and lawyers.
The Pegasus leaks have dominated the first two days of India’s monsoon session in parliament, and on Tuesday the house was adjourned twice due to uproar and protests by opposition politicians.
Members of the opposition Congress party, whose own Rahul Gandhi was among those whose name was on the list, held up placards in the chamber and shouted loudly, calling for the resignation of the home minister, Amit Shah, over the allegations of spying.
Congress and other opposition parties have also called for an independent investigation into the alleged use of Pegasus spyware by Narendra Modi’s government.
Congress spokesperson Shaktisinh Gohil said the government needed to clearly state whether or not it had purchased Pegasus software. “If yes, then the government should order a joint parliamentary committee probe to investigate the entire matter,” he said.
According to the leaks, those of Gandhi, along with several of his close associates and a political strategist who works for the Congress, were among 300 verified Indian numbers who appeared in the leaked data. Two of Gandhi’s telephone numbers were selected in 2017 and 2019 before the 2019 general elections, where Congress went on to suffer a major loss to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party.
Others in the list included two ministers, more than 40 journalists, three opposition leaders, dozens of activists and one sitting judge.
The opposition has accused the Modi government of using the Pegasus software to spy on its political opponents, as well as lawyers, journalists and human rights activists whose work was critical of the government. On Monday it called it “an attack on the democratic foundations of our country”.
The Modi government has maintained that no unauthorised surveillance was done. The former IT minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, said there was “not a shred of evidence linking Indian government or the BJP” to the allegations and was among several senior BJP figures to call the leaks an international plot to defame India.
The news came as prosecutors in Paris said on Tuesday that they had opened an investigation into allegations that the Moroccan intelligence services used the Israeli surveillance software Pegasus to spy on several French journalists.
Paris prosecutors will examine 10 different charges, including whether there was a breach of personal privacy, fraudulent access to personal electronic devices, and criminal association.
The investigative website Mediapart filed a legal complaint over the allegations, which Morocco has denied, after confirming that forensics showed that the phone of its editorial director and co-founder, Edwy Plenel, was selected as well as that of its gender editor, Lénaïg Bredoux, who has specialised in reporting on sexual violence and sexual harassment.
The French satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné has also said it plans to file a legal complaint.
Its former reporter Dominique Simonnot, currently head of France’s independent body which oversees prisons, confirmed to France Info that she had been selected while still working as a journalist, saying: “It’s a real scandal.”
The French government spokesman Gabriel Attal told French public radio: “These are extremely shocking acts and, if proven, are extremely serious.”
He said that France was “extremely attached to press freedom” and that any attempt to curtail journalists’ freedom to report was “very serious”.
In Brussels, the European Commission has promised to use “all possible tools” to gather information about spying on journalists after forensic analysis of mobile devices showed that Hungary’s government was using Pegasus spyware against investigative reporters.
The promised action from the commission is likely to disappoint some members of the European parliament, who were looking for a tougher response to the allegations against Hungary, already ensnared in numerous disputes with Brussels over democracy and human rights.
Didier Reynders, the EU commissioner in charge of data protection, said: “Any such spying on the media, if true, is simply unacceptable, so we will work to follow the investigations.”
He added that Brussels officials responsible for communications networks and technology were analysing the situation, but did not go as far as promising the full-scale investigation by the commission that members of the European parliament have demanded.
Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld has tabled urgent questions to the commission, demanding to know whether it will “immediately investigate and assess whether or not Hungary has respected its obligations” under the EU treaties, charter of fundamental rights and law on data protection (GDPR).
The Hungarian government has taken a two-pronged response to the Pegasus reports. A blogpost released on Tuesday said that there had been no illegal surveillance in Hungary since Orbán came to power in 2010. It also quoted Hungary’s justice minister, Judit Varga, who told Hungarian media that states “must have the necessary tools to combat the many threats they face today”.
In Mexico, Obrador rejected calls for a criminal investigation into the revelations that the numbers of 15,000 Mexicans appeared in the data, even as he pledged to halt all use of the Israeli spyware.
He said: “[This investigation] is irrefutable proof that we were subjected to an authoritarian undemocratic government that violated human rights.”
Mexico was NSO’s first client in 2011, and at least three agencies – the secretary of defence, attorney general’s office and national intelligence agency – operated Pegasus during the previous government.
“I am absolutely sure that this government does not spy on anybody. If we find contracts, they will be cancelled. We do things differently in this government … we are transforming public life. We don’t spy on journalists, political opponents or activists,” Obrador said.