Two rights activists in Morocco have been targeted by surveillance technology developed by an Israeli firm that enables the sender to seize near-full control of mobile devices, Amnesty International said Thursday.
The rights group said academic and activist Maati Monjib and human rights lawyer Abdessadak El Bouchattaoui had received SMS messages containing malicious links through spyware developed by Israel’s NSO Group.
“Amnesty International’s research has uncovered chilling new evidence that further illustrates how NSO Group’s malicious spyware is enabling state-sponsored repression of human rights defenders,” Danna Ingleton of Amnesty’s technology division said in a statement.
Clicking on the links would have allowed “the sender to obtain near-total control of the phone” by secretly installing Pegasus software, Amnesty said.
The rights group alleged that the same technology was used to target one of its own staff and a Saudi rights activist in June 2018.
Bouchattaoui was in 2018 handed a two-year sentence by a Moroccan criminal court for online comments criticising the conduct of security forces towards protesters, while Monjib was in 2015 accused of “threatening… internal security”, according to Amnesty.
“NSO Group is known to only sell its spyware to government intelligence and law enforcement agencies, raising serious concerns that Moroccan security agencies are behind the surveillance,” Amnesty said.
NSO says it does not operate the Pegasus system, only licensing it to closely vetted government users “for the sole purpose of preventing or investigating serious crime including terrorism”.