According to a spokesperson for Israeli cybersecurity firm NSO Group, the controversial Pegasus spyware tool was not used to target French President Emmanuel Macron.

The remarks came as Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged Israel to halt spying technology exports after a list of alleged targets included heads of state, including Macron, as well as scores of journalists and human rights activists.

According to Chaim Gelfand, chief compliance officer at NSO Group, we can "specifically come out and say for sure that the president of France, Macron, was not a target."

He did, however, allude to "some cases brought up that we are not so comfortable with," explaining that in such cases, the company "usually approaches the customer and has a whole long discussion... to try to understand what were his legitimate reasons, if any, to use the system."

RSF Head Christophe Deloire called on Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett "to impose an immediate moratorium on surveillance technology exports until a protective regulatory framework has been established," and Gelfand's comments were broadcast on the same day.

Deloire's phone call came after a list of 50,000 phone numbers believed to have been chosen by NSO Group clients was leaked. Macron's and 13 other heads of state were allegedly included in the figures.

Pegasus can access a user's phone without them knowing, allowing clients to read all of their messages, track their location, and use the phone's camera and microphone.

45 Countries Have Signed Contracts

NSO has contracts with 45 countries and claims that its deals must be approved by Israel's defense ministry. Customers are not identified by the company.

However, Bahrain, India, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, and Saudi Arabia are among NSO's government clients, according to rights group Amnesty International and the Paris-based organization Forbidden Stories, which obtained the list.

According to reports by The Guardian, Le Monde, and The Washington Post, nearly 200 journalists from AFP and other organizations were on the list.

"Allowing governments to install spyware that is currently being used to monitor hundreds of journalists and their sources around the world is a major democratic problem," Deloire said.

Bennett's and Defense Minister Benny Gantz's spokespeople did not respond to AFP's questions on Wednesday.

NSO, an Israeli tech behemoth with 850 employees, is headquartered in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv.

Shalev Hulio, the company's CEO, denied conducting mass surveillance in an interview with Israel's 103FM radio station on Tuesday.

He claimed NSO had "no ties" to the tens of thousands of phone numbers on the list.

Bennett praised Israel's technological prowess at a cyber conference in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.

"For every $100 invested globally in cyber defense, $41 was invested in Israeli cyber defense firms," he said.

Bennett continued, "We as a government, we as a nation, we have to defend ourselves."

He suggested that global interest in Israeli technology remained strong, claiming that "dozens of countries" had signed memorandums to obtain Israeli cyber-defense tools.

NSO issued a second statement on Wednesday, claiming that the company had been the target of a "vicious and slanderous campaign" and that it would no longer respond to media inquiries.

"Any claim that a name on the list is inextricably linked to a Pegasus target or potential Pegasus target is false and erroneous," it said.

"NSO is a technological firm. We don't run the system, and we don't have access to our customers' data, but they are obligated to provide us with it as part of the investigation "the business added.

Israel only approves technology exports to governments "exclusively for the purposes of preventing and investigating crime and terrorism," Gantz said on Tuesday.


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