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28th Sep 2022

EU Commission won't probe 'Pegasus' spyware abuse

  • "We live in a world where modern states face many threats. Let's not be ridiculous, every country needs such tools," says Hungary's justice minister, Judit Varga (c) (Photo: Council of the European Union)
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The European Commission won't investigate member states that likely used Pegasus spyware against politicians, journalists and sometimes even their families.

"This is really something for the national authorities," an EU commission spokesperson told reporters on Tuesday (19 April).

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Another commission spokesperson cited procedures, noted the commission cannot touch national security issues, and that people should instead seek justice at their respective national courts.

The comments come despite admissions that both Poland and Hungary have used Pegasus, a software developed by Israeli-based firm NSO. The spyware is supposed to be used against terrorists and takes control over a person's phone. It can, for instance, turn on audio or video recording.

Both member states are also under heavy scrutiny for backsliding on rule of law.

In Poland, the erosion of judicial independence has landed Warsaw with €1 million daily fines from the European Court of Justice. In Hungary, allegations of corruption and fraud of EU funds by its ruling elite have long irritated members of the European Parliament.

The commission statement follows revelations last month that EU commissioner Didier Reynders and at least four other commission staff had been targeted by Pegasus.

It also follows revelations this week that a handful of European lawmakers from Catalonia had been ensnared in the digital dragnet.

Among them was Green Spanish MEP Diana Riba i Giner who told reporters on Tuesday that those responsible need to be held accountable.

"In our particular case, we were spied on, and by extension, the whole European Parliament was spied on," she said.

Riba said all their communications with other European lawmakers had also been tapped. "This is something which must not go unpunished, either legally or politically," she said.

But whether anyone will be held accountable has yet to be determined.

The European Parliament has since launched a special inquiry committee composed to probe the abuse. They want to look at existing national laws regulating surveillance.

Hamstrung by not having any real powers, they hope to generate enough public outrage to elevate it to a European-level discussion.

"Here we are not talking about some attack of dictators, or autocrats in third countries," said German Green MEP, Hannah Neumann."These cases clearly show that even European democracies are not immune to abuse," she said.

The committee wants to grill national governments and the head of the NSO. They are also demanding a ban on the use of Pegasus and other surveillance by spyware against politicians, journalists, and lawyers.

Those demands can lead to recommendations, non-binding resolutions, and other policy ideas on surveillance spyware.

Privacy watchdog proposes EU-ban on Pegasus-like spyware

The Brussels-based European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) warns the software could lead to an unprecedented level of intrusiveness into citizens' private lives and shake the foundations of a free-thinking society.

MEPs hear testimony from Pegasus spy victims

The renewed calls for action on Pegasus surveillance in Poland and Hungary came after Hungary's data protection authority, headed by an appointee of prime minister Viktor Orbán, said victims were legitimate targets.

EU condemns 'Pegasus' spyware use on journalists

An international investigation over the weekend by 17 media organisations, led by the Paris-based non-profit journalism group Forbidden Stories, said 180 journalists had been targeted by Israeli spyware. Among them were Hungarian reporters.

Greek PM embroiled in spyware scandal

Greece has become embroiled in a wiretapping scandal that led to the resignation of its intelligence chief as well as the Greek prime minister's top aide.

Opinion

The Greek Watergate

In the European Parliament hearing into espionage against Greek politicians and reporters, the spied-upon journalists recounted their experiences — but the non-answers provided by the Greek government official were embarrassing, confrontative, and institutionally vacant.

Investigation

NSO surveillance rival operating in EU

As European Parliament hearings into hacking scandals resume this week, an investigation led by Lighthouse Reports with EUobserver, Der Spiegel, Domani and Irpimedia reveals the unreported scale of operations at a shady European surveillance outfit.

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