NSO Group
NSO Group REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez vowed on Wednesday to "be accountable" for allegations that Madrid spied on dozens of Catalan separatist figures using Israeli spyware, AFP reported.

Canada's Citizen Lab group said last week that at least 65 people linked to the Catalan separatist movement had been targets of the Pegasus spyware, developed by Israeli company NSO Group, after a failed independence bid in 2017.

Elected officials, including current and former Catalan regional leaders, were among those targeted by the spyware, which infiltrates mobile phones to extract data or activate a camera or microphone and spy on its owners.

On Tuesday, Spain’s El Pais newspaper reported that the country’s intelligence service had court approval to spy on the separatists.

"We will be accountable," Sanchez said during a parliamentary debate on Wednesday, his first public comments on the spying allegations.

"This is a serious issue which demands serious answers," he added.

The allegations have strained relations between Sanchez's leftist minority coalition government and the Catalan separatist party ERC, whose support he needs to pass legislation.

The ERC has threatened to withdraw its support for the government, with parliament set to vote Thursday on a massive financial aid package to help families and companies hit by soaring inflation.

Sanchez vowed "maximum transparency", saying documents could be declassified to help the investigations into the alleged spying.

At the same time, he defended Spain's intelligence service, the CNI, saying everything it had done had been carried out "scrupulously and with rigor, within the framework of the law".

The report on the Spanish spying is the latest in a series of reports linking Pegasus to abuses by governments.

In February, the Finnish foreign ministry said it had detected Pegasus in several phones used by its diplomats abroad.

The Finnish announcement followed a report in The New York Times which said that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu worked to ensure that Saudi Arabia would be able to use the Pegasus software, around the time that the Abraham Accords were signed with the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Earlier this month, digital-rights researchers said that the mobile phones of four Jordanian human rights activists were hacked over a two-year period with Pegasus. Jordan denied the allegations.

The US Commerce Department recently blacklisted NSO Group, prohibiting it from using American technology in its operations.

Apple sued the Israeli firm in late November, seeking a permanent injunction to ban NSO Group from using Apple software, services, or devices.