Saturday

4th Feb 2023

Opinion

Pegasus: Are we becoming a Europe of spies?

  • Diana Riba in the EU Parliament in Strasbourg (Photo: europarl.eu)
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A week ago, the influential magazine The New Yorker published an in-depth study conducted by the University of Toronto's interdisciplinary laboratory Citizen Lab, which showed that at least 65 Catalan political and social leaders had been spied on using the now notorious Pegasus spyware.

This is undoubtedly the largest political espionage case ever discovered — a case that implicates Spain alongside other countries which faced similar scandals, such as Poland and Hungary.

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It goes to shows that the use of this type of spyware is becoming ever more widespread in the European Union.

It is happening in states which call themselves democracies, but which fail to protect the fundamental rights of their citizens.

We see, with concern, how the democratic space is being restricted in quite a few parts of Europe, and that is why those of us who represent European citizens and who defend the fundamental values of the Union have to show some self-criticism.

Are we doing enough to prevent the authoritarian backsliding of some member states?

The answer is that EU institutions have most certainly not provided a sufficiently clear, forceful, and effective response to the breaches of our rights and freedoms that we are witnessing within our European borders.

This contrasts with the vehement denunciations we sometimes hear when such abuses occur outside the EU.

And so, little by little, this is how the European project and its credibility are being worn away.

We cannot afford to see our Europe straying into a surveillance-and-control society in which states have access to all our information and communications, to use against us when it suits them.

There are poisonous examples of this kind of behaviour in Russia and China especially — these are precisely the examples we do not want our own governments to follow.

Cui bono?

This time, the spying appears to have been perpetrated by the Spanish state — after all, who else would spend millions of euros on espionage on the Catalan independence movement, if not Spain?

And it has struck at the very home of European democracy — the European Parliament (EP).

I myself have been spied upon during my term as an MEP. My communications with other MEPs, advisers, assistants and parliamentary staff have been utterly exposed.

That means that I am a direct victim, but it also means that all my other colleagues in the EP are collateral victims.

Let's not forget that we MEPs represent the democratic will of Europeans, the will of 450 million citizens, which has been violated by the espionage of a single member state's government.

The #CatalanGate scandal is massive and must be condemned, as a Washington Post editorial demanded last week.

This is not just because we victims have a right to the truth and to know who is spying on us, why they are spying on us and where our information is now, but also because we need to repair the damage done to European democracy.

In the EU, such acts, which normally belong in the most illiberal of countries, must have consequences.

The day after the scandal was uncovered, the EP set up an inquiry committee on Pegasus.

This initiative, fortunately, enjoys great consensus among the main political groups in the European Parliament.

This new instrument should steer us towards clarification of the many cases unveiled all over the European Union, and also towards a European legal framework that will help prevent there being any further victims.

It should also ascertain how illegal espionage, which costs millions, is being paid for. Well, we already know who is probably paying: the European taxpayer.

Author bio

Diana Riba is a Catalan MEP in the Greens/EFA group in the EU Parliament and a vice-chair of the Pegasus inquiry committee.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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