French court opens investigation on Pegasus spyware
The Paris court opened the probe because of a complaint by the digital news organization, Mediapart, after the mobile phones of two journalists, Lenaig Bredoux, and founder Edwy Plenel, featured in the Pegasus list and were found to be infected with spyware operated by Moroccan secret services.
The Central Office for Combating Information and Communication Technology Crime (OCLCTLC) of the Central Directorate of the Judicial Police (DCPJ) will lead the investigation on 10 charges, including "fraudulent access and introduction of data to an automated data processing system," "dissemination of words and images that are an invasion of privacy, interception, misappropriation, the use and disclosure of correspondence," according to a statement from public prosecutor Remy Heitz.
The revelation about Pegasus, an Israeli military software used by 10 governments to spy on journalists, human rights activists, opposition figures and vocal critics through their mobile handsets was made Sunday, July 18 by an international consortium of 17 news media outlets.
In a series of tweets on Monday, Mediapart said for several months in 2019 and 2020, Moroccan authorities “violated the privacy”, “undermined press freedom” besides “stealing and exploiting the personal and professional data,” of its journalists.
Plenel had visited Morocco in June 2019 where he spoke in support of the Hirak Rif mass protest movement that was violently repressed and whose activists were arrested by the government. Bredoux, too, had reported on the Macron government’s interest in Morocco.
“Everything suggests that the espionage of Mediapart was part of the offensive intended to silence independent journalists in Morocco,” a tweet by Mediapart said about the reason behind the filing. “The only way to get to the bottom of it is for justice to be seized in order to conduct an independent investigation into this large-scale espionage organized in France by Morocco.”
“Beyond the legal consequences, this attack on fundamental freedoms, carried out by a foreign power against an independent newspaper, requires a firm reaction from the French authorities which goes beyond a condemnation in principle,” it said. ■