The Moroccan government on Thursday filed a defamation suit against human rights body Amnesty International and French media non-profit Forbidden Stories in relation to the alleged surveillance using the Pegasus spyware, AFP reported.
This appears to be the first lawsuit filed in the matter by the government of a country against which there are allegations of spying.
The list of over 50,000 potential snooping targets accessed by Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories showed that French President Emmanuel Macron was chosen as a potential target for surveillance by Morocco in 2019. King Mohammed VI of Morocco was reportedly chosen as a target by the security forces of his own country in the same year.
The Pegasus spyware is developed, marketed and licensed to governments around the world by the Israeli cyber intelligence company NSO Group. The company said that it licenses its software only to “vetted governments” and that Pegasus is meant to be targeted at criminals.
Morocco has, however, refused the allegations.
“The Moroccan state...wants all possible light cast on these false allegations from these two organisations, who make claims without any concrete or demonstrative evidence whatsoever,” Olivier Baratelli, the lawyer representing the government in the suit said in a statement.
The lawyer added that the Moroccan government does not intend to let “multiple lies and fake news” go unpunished.
The first hearing is scheduled on October 8 in Paris, but a trial may not begin for another two years, according to AFP.
Meanwhile, Macron has changed his phone in light of the revelations, Reuters reported on Thursday, citing a presidency official. The French government official said that while there was no confirmation that Macron’s phone had indeed been hacked, the French president took the action as an “additional security”.
On Tuesday, prosecutors in France had opened their own inquiry into the Pegasus row. The investigation will examine 10 different charges, including whether there was a breach of personal privacy, fraudulent access to personal electronic devices and criminal association, the country’s news outlet France24 reported.
The Pegasus Project
Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories had shared the list of the potential hacking targets with 17 news organisations as part of the Pegasus Project.
The global investigation has revealed the names of heads of state, politicians, students, activists, journalists and lawyers in several countries as possible targets of surveillance. The Pegasus Project has raised serious questions about the misuse of spyware sold only to governments.
In India, prominent names on the list of potential targets included over 40 journalists, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Union ministers Prahlad Patel and Ashwini Vaishnaw, election strategist Prashant Kishor and virologist Gagandeep Kang.
Responding to allegations of snooping by government agencies, Vaishnaw told the Parliament that illegal surveillance was not possible in India. The government, however, has not yet categorically denied using the Pegasus spyware on Indian citizens.