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Spyware reportedly found on phone of journalists and activists

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Private Israeli military-grade spy software was used to hack dozens of smartphones belonging to reporters, human rights activists, business executives, and also the fiancee of Jamal Khashoggi, the murdered Saudi journalist. The information was revealed by an investigation made by the Washington Post and 16 other news organizations. 

The investigation discovered that the hacked phones were on a list of more than 50,000 numbers based in countries known to surveil people. The list of phone numbers was shared with news organizations by Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based journalism nonprofit, and with human rights group Amnesty International. 

The investigation, called the Pegasus Project, included a forensic analysis of the phones.

On its end, NSO Group denied the findings of the report in several statements. They have argued that the investigation includes “uncorroborated theories” based on “misleading interpretation of leaked data from accessible and overt basic information.” NSO said the spyware is only used to surveil terrorists and criminals.

The spyware used has the ability to hack a mobile phone’s data and activate the microphone, according to the report.

The list of numbers, which dates back to 2016, includes reporters working overseas for several news organizations. Among them, CNN, the Associated Press, the Voice of America, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, Le Monde, the Financial Times in London and Al Jazeera in Qatar. Also, heads of state and prime ministers are reportedly on the list. 

“The Pegasus Project lays bare how NSO’s spyware is a weapon of choice for repressive governments seeking to silence journalists, attack activists and crush dissent, placing countless lives in peril,” Agnès Callamard, secretary-general of Amnesty International, said in a statement.

“While the company claims its spyware is only used for legitimate criminal and terror investigations, it’s clear its technology facilitates systemic abuse,” Callamard argued. “Clearly, their actions pose larger questions about the wholesale lack of regulation that has created a wild west of rampant abusive targeting of activists and journalists.” 

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