29th Nov 2023

Privacy watchdog proposes EU-ban on Pegasus-like spyware

  • Government officials in both Poland and Hungary initially denied using the spyware, which turns smartphones into surveillance devices against their users - but eventually acknowledged its use (Photo: CAFNR)
Listen to article

The EU's top privacy watchdog wants a ban on the Israeli-made Pegasus spyware, which has been used by the Hungarian and Polish state reportedly against journalists and opposition figures.

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

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Although the supervisor can only make suggestions and offer recommendations, the input adds to the growing chorus of outrage over a software that may have been sold to dozens of countries worldwide.

And while its broadside against Pegasus was welcomed by privacy advocates, it ramps up pressure on Europe to craft a data regime that balances citizens' rights with allowing law enforcement to limit privacy where needed to combat crime and terrorism.

Even so, the EDPS doubted that spyware such as Pegasus - or other possible future variants on it - could even meet the requirements of proportionality given its highly intrusive technology, it said in a briefing paper.

And in an emailed statement on Tuesday (15 February), the EDPS suggested an EU-wide "ban on the development and the deployment of spyware with the capability of Pegasus."

The United States has since blacklisted NSO Group, the Israeli-firm behind Pegasus software, saying the company knew foreign governments would use it to "maliciously target" the phones of human rights defenders, journalists and others.

Lawmakers at the European Parliament plenary session in Strasbourg were quick to point out that — aside from public statements — little else had been done to curtail its use in Europe.

"Within Europe, where this is happening, the Council and the Commission have so far been silent," Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld said. "Yes, you have condemned the practices, but what has actually been done? Nothing."

"European governments spying on their own citizens for political purposes, is totally and wholly unacceptable," she said.

Calls for EU sanctions against the NSO Group have been made by Human Rights Watch, as well as numerous other advocacy groups and experts.

EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders, also speaking at the plenary debate, acknowledged the EU's limits when it came to national security.

But that "does not mean that member states are exempt from their obligations in line with EU law," Reynders said.

A consortium of journalists who were part of the so-called Pegasus Project revealed widespread abuse of the NSO's hacking spyware.

Although the company said its tools were only for use against terrorists and criminals, the Pegasus Project revealed how the digital dragnet had ensnared many others, including human rights activists, journalists and lawyers.

Among those targeted was the Hungarian journalist Szabolcs Panyi from the investigative website Direkt36. Panyi said his phone had been hacked in 2019, while investigating Russian influence in Hungary.

An investigation by the Associated Press revealed at least three people in Poland had been targeted by Pegasus, among them Polish prosecutor Ewa Wrzosek and opposition senator Krzysztof Brejza.

A number of Polish senators have since announced plans to draft laws to rein in such surveillance abuses.

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.

EU Commission won't probe 'Pegasus' spyware abuse

The European Commission says people should file their complaints with national authorities in countries whose governments are suspected of using an Israeli-made Pegasus spyware against them.


Pegasus: Are we becoming a Europe of spies?

I was spied on using Pegasus while being an MEP in the EU Parliament — this attack on the home of European democracy must have consequences.


How Wilders' Dutch extremism goes way beyond Islamophobia

Without losing sight of his pervasive Islamophobia, it is essential to note Geert Wilders' far-right extremism extends to other issues that could drastically alter the nature of Dutch politics — and end its often constructive role in advancing EU policies.

Latest News

  1. The EU's 'no added sugars' fruit-juice label sleight-of-hand
  2. EU belittles Russia's Lavrov on way to Skopje talks
  3. Member states stall on EU ban on forced-labour products
  4. EU calls for increased fuel supplies into Gaza
  5. People-smuggling profits at historic high, EU concedes
  6. EU bets big on fossil hydrogen and carbon storage
  7. How centre-right conservatives capitulate to the far-right
  8. My experience trying to negotiate with Uber

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  2. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?
  3. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  4. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  5. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  2. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal interest in the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations – here are the speakers for the launch
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers20 June: Launch of the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations
  5. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  6. ICLEISeven actionable measures to make food procurement in Europe more sustainable

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us