From left, Imran Khan, Ruhakana Rugunda, Emmanuel Macron and Cyril Ramaphosa. Composite: The Guardian/GCIS/EPA/REX/Shutterstock/Getty Images/Reuters

THE mobile numbers of President Cyril Ramaphosa, French president Emmanuel Macron and other world leaders have been identified in a leaked database that forms part of the Pegasus project, the Guardian reports.

The Pegasus Project is an international investigative journalism effort that aims to reveal spying abuses by various governments on journalists, politicians, activists, business people and others using the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware.

The NSO Group is an Israeli technology firm whose spyware enables the remote surveillance of smartphones. It was officially marketed for surveillance of serious criminals and terrorists.

Acting Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said government was ‘unhappy’ and deeply concerned that the president’s phone was targeted for spy purposes.

“Of course we are unhappy because we believe that this infringes on the privacy of the president and the sovereignty of the State and the republic of South Africa,” said Ntshavheni.

“The State Security will look into the matter and prepare a report for the government. We are unhappy because the report comes at a time when the relations are improving in the SADC region. We will work with other SADC member states to ensure that we respect each other’s sovereignty as individual states.”

The appearance of a number on the leaked list does not mean it was subject to an attempted or successful hack, the Guardian said, but the list is believed to be indicative of individuals identified as ‘persons of interest’ by government clients of NSO.

It includes people who were later targeted for surveillance, according to forensic analysis of their phones.

In addition to Macron and Ramaphosa, other political figures whose numbers appear in the list include:

  • Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization’s director-general;
  • Charles Michel, the president of the European Council;
  • Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan.

The backlash to the spying allegations has already been swift, with Amnesty International condemning the NSO Group and its software.

“The unprecedented revelation that the phones of at least fourteen heads of state may have been hacked using NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware should send a chill down the spine of world leaders,” said Amnesty International’s secretary-general Agnes Callamard.

“We have long known that activists and journalists are targets of this surreptitious phone-hacking – but it’s clear that even those at the highest levels of power cannot escape the sinister spread of NSO’s spyware.

“NSO Group can no longer hide behind the claim that its spyware is only used to fight crime – it appears that Pegasus is also the spyware of choice for those wanting to snoop on foreign governments.”

– Business Tech

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