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French President Emmanuel Macron has changed his name mobile phone and phone number in light of the Pegasus spyware case, a presidency official said Thursday, in one of the first concrete actions announced in relation to the scandal.
“He has several phone numbers. This doesn’t mean he’s been spied on. It’s just extra security,” the official told Reuters. Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said the president’s security protocols were being modified in light of the incident.
Outrage arose worldwide when several international media organizations reported that the Pegasus spyware was being used to hack into the smartphones of journalists, human rights activists and government officials in several countries.
In Israel, where the NSO Group, which sells the Pegasus software, is based, a senior lawmaker said a parliamentary panel could investigate spyware export restrictions. NSO says its software is used to fight crime and terrorism and denies any wrongdoing.
“Obviously we take (this) very seriously,” Attal told reporters hours after an emergency cabinet meeting focused on the Pegasus allegations.
The newspaper Le Monde and the broadcaster Radio France reported on Tuesday that Macron’s phone was on a list of possible targets for surveillance by Morocco. The two media outlets said they could not access Macron’s phone and verify that his phone had indeed been spied on.
Morocco has rejected these allegations.
Amid mounting EU concerns, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters in Berlin that spyware should be banned from countries without judicial oversight.
Hungarian prosecutors launched an investigation on Thursday into multiple complaints received in response to the reports.
Israel has appointed an inter-ministerial team to review reports based on an investigation by 17 media organizations that said Pegasus had been used in attempted or successful smartphone hacks with malware that enables message extraction, call recording and secretly activate microphones.
The NSO has dismissed the media partners’ coverage as “full of false assumptions and unconfirmed theories”. Reuters has not independently verified the reporting.
“We definitely need to rethink this whole subject of DECA-granted licenses,” Ram Ben-Barak, head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told Israel Defense Forces Radio, referring to the government-run Defense Export Controls Agency.
The Israeli government team “will carry out its checks and we will certainly look at the findings and see if we need to work things out here,” Ben-Barak said. As a former deputy chief of Mossad, he said the proper use of Pegasus had “helped a lot of people.”
DECA falls within the Israeli Ministry of Defense and oversees the export of NSOs. Both the ministry and the company have said that Pegasus is intended to track only terrorists or criminals, and that all foreign customers are government vetted.
NSO says it does not know the specific identities of people against whom customers use Pegasus. If it receives a complaint that Pegasus has been abused by a customer, NSO can retroactively obtain the target lists and, if the complaint proves true, unilaterally shut down that customer’s software, the company says.
Other world leaders among those whose phone numbers were on a list of possible targets according to the news organizations include Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Morocco’s King Mohammed VI.
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