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Israeli Lawyer, Hungarian Rights Group Target Pegasus Spyware

An Israeli lawyer said Saturday he was working with a rights group in Hungary to pursue authorities and Israeli firm NSO Group on behalf of Hungarian journalists allegedly targeted with Pegasus spyware.

An Israeli lawyer said Saturday he was working with a rights group in Hungary to pursue authorities and Israeli firm NSO Group on behalf of Hungarian journalists allegedly targeted with Pegasus spyware.

Eitay Mack told AFP he had asked the Israeli attorney general to investigate how NSO was licensed to sell its surveillance software, which can switch on a phone’s camera or microphone and harvest its data, to Hungary.

The lawyer said he had coordinated the request with the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU), which says Pegasus targeted the phones of four Hungarian journalists, one Belgian national and a sixth person who has requested anonymity. 

The HCLU said it had lodged complaints to Hungarian ministers overseeing the secret services as well as to the European Commission, and intended to file a “multitude of lawsuits” with the European Court of Human Rights.

The organisation “is using all possible legal means to enforce the rights of those illegally monitored and is taking the case of secret surveillance regulation… before Hungarian and international bodies”, it said in a statement Friday.

NSO Group did not immediately provide comment when contacted by AFP about the complaints.

The firm has previously said that the Israeli defence ministry regulates its sales, and that they are made “only to legitimate law enforcement agencies who use these systems under warrants to fight criminals, terrorists and corruption”.

In November, a senior Hungarian ruling party official said the government used Pegasus but denied it had spied on citizens illegally.

NSO has faced an avalanche of accusations since a list of some 50,000 potential surveillance targets worldwide, including journalists and activists, was leaked to the media last year.  

The United States blacklisted the firm in November for enabling “foreign governments to conduct transnational repression”.

‘Coarse lie’

A New York Times investigation published Friday found that Israel renewed a Saudi license for the Pegasus spyware after a telephone call between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and then Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It said Pegasus was reactivated despite allegations it had been used to spy on associates of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

NSO Group CEO Shalev Hulio denied the software was used to monitor associates of Khashoggi, calling the claim a “coarse lie”.

In an interview aired Saturday, he told Israel’s N12 TV channel that he had no moral qualms about the spyware, adding: “I sleep well at night.”

The New York Times suggested Israeli access to Saudi airspace that was granted in connection to the so-called Abraham Accords — US-brokered normalization deals announced in 2020 between Israel and several Arab countries, though not the Saudi kingdom — could have been compromised without Pegasus’s renewal.

Netanyahu’s office has called the claim a “complete lie”.

Finland on Friday said mobile phones belonging to its diplomats were hacked using Pegasus, while earlier this month Israel’s justice ministry pledged to examine allegations that the spyware was used on Israeli citizens. 

NSO Group chairman Asher Levy stepped down this week, though he denied reports the move was tied to recent controversies. 

Written By

AFP 2023

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