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Pegasus: France planned to buy spyware, but cut talks as scandal broke, report says

French Ministry of Foreign Affairs denies what sources told MIT Tech Review while UK government won't say whether it is a customer
Live stream of an interview of French President Emmanuel Macron, one of several French politicians alleged to have been targeted by Pegasus spyware (AFP)

The French government was finalising plans to buy NSO Group's Pegasus spyware in July but cut off negotiations when it realised politicians, including President Emmanuel Macron, may have been targeted with the product, sources told MIT Technology Review which reported the story on Tuesday.

After the story's publication, France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied that it had been in the process of purchasing NSO Group products.

Meanwhile, the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) declined to say whether the UK government is an NSO Group customer when MEE asked this week. 

An FCDO spokesperson said: "While we do not comment on operational matters, the UK's intelligence agencies are governed by a robust regulatory framework to ensure our capabilities are always used in a way that is legal, necessary and proportionate."

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NSO Group has come under fire following a series of stories released by a consortium of media outlets this summer which alleged that Pegasus was used to target politicians, journalists and activists.

Last month, the US government blacklisted the company, and a second Israeli spyware firm, Candiru, saying their activities were contrary to US foreign policy and national security interests.

The NSO Group has stressed that it does not operate the spyware that it sells to its customers - who are limited to sovereign states, or the law enforcement or intelligence services of those states - and does not have access to the data of its clients' targets.

It has also indicated that it previously shut down the systems of several customers and would not hesitate to do so again, but would not identify current or former customers "due to contractual and national security considerations". 

Sources told MIT Technology Review that French officials were finalising contract negotiations for Pegasus when it came to light that French politicians had potentially been targeted with the spyware.

France would have joined Spain and Germany among democratic nations which are customers of the Israeli firm.

In Spain, El Pais reported that Pegasus is available for use by the country's intelligence services, and in Germany, the Federal Criminal Police Office has bought the software, Die Zeit reported

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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