The complaint does not name NSO Group, the Israeli company that makes Pegasus, but it targets the company and was filed in response to yesterday’s revelations that Pegasus has been used to spy on at least 180 journalists in 20 countries, including 30 in France.
Drafted by RSF lawyers William Bourdon and Vincent Brengarth, the complaint cites invasion of privacy (article 216-1 of the French penal code), violation of the secrecy of correspondence (article 226-15), fraudulent collection of personal data (article 226- 18), fraudulent data introduction and extraction and access to automated data systems (articles 323-1 and 3, and 462-2), and undue interference with the freedom of expression and breach of the confidentiality of sources (article 431-1).
This complaint is the first in a series that RSF intends to file in several countries together with journalists who were directly targeted.
The complaint makes it clear that NSO Group’s spyware was used to target Brouksy and Monjib and other journalists the Moroccan authorities wanted to silence. The author of two books on the Moroccan monarchy and a former AFP correspondent, Brouksy is an active RSF ally in Morocco. Monjib, who was recently defended by RSF, was released by the Moroccan authorities on 23 March after a 20-day hunger strike, and continues to await trial.
“We will do everything to ensure that NSO Group is convicted for the crimes it has committed and for the tragedies it has made possible,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “We have filed a complaint in France first because this country appears to be a prime target for NSO Group customers, and because RSF's international’s headquarters are located here. Other complaints will follow in other countries. The scale of the violations that have been revealed calls for a major legal response.”
After revelations by the Financial Times in 2019 about attacks on the smartphones of around 100 journalists, human rights activists and political dissidents, several lawsuits were filed against NSO Group, including one by the WhatsApp messaging service in California.
The amicus brief that RSF and other NGOs filed in this case said: “The Intrusions into the private communications of activists and journalists cannot be justified on grounds of security or defence, but are carried out solely with the aim of enabling government opponents to be tracked down and gagged. NSO Group nonetheless continues to provide surveillance technology to its state clients, knowing that they are using it to violate international law and thereby failing in its responsibility to respect human rights.”
RSF included NSO Group in its list of “digital predators” in 2020.