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30th Nov 2022

Catalan leader slams Pegasus use: 'Perhaps I'm still spied on'

  • The leader of the Catalan government, Pere Aragonès, welcomed the establishment of a European Parliament committee on Pegasus (Photo: Press Cambrabcn)
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The leader of the Catalan government, Pere Aragonès, denounced on Thursday (19 May) the use of the Israeli-made Pegasus spyware against separatist lawmakers and MEPs during a visit to Brussels.

The so-called Catalangate affair is the latest case of political espionage with the surveillance spyware, prompting a new row between Madrid and Barcelona — and the resignation of the director of Spain's intelligence agency Paz Esteban earlier in May.

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Aragonès has also rejected putting a date on a potential meeting with Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez, arguing that certain guarantees must be met first.

"We demand maximum transparency, explanations, assumptions of responsibilities and guarantees of non-repetition," he told a press briefing in the European Parliament on Thursday.

The investigation, led by the CitizenLab research group based at the University of Toronto and published by The New Yorker magazine in mid-April, revealed that at least 65 Catalan pro-independence politicians and activists were spied on between 2017 and 2020.

Aragonès is only one of the top Catalan politicians targeted by the Pegasus spyware. But the list includes four MEPs, former regional presidents, academics and lawyers associated with the independence movement.

"If I was spied on because I defended the independence of Catalonia three years ago, and today I am still defending the independence of Catalonia — perhaps I'm still being spied on," Aragonès also said.

The Catalan leader welcomed the establishment of a European Parliament committee on Pegasus and regretted that this option was blocked in the Spanish congress by the majority of political parties.

"Talking of fundamental rights, the rule of law and democracy makes little sense if political representatives, journalists and activists are subsequently spied upon and the European Union does not react quickly and decisively," Catalan MEP Diana Riba told EUobserver.

Riba, who has herself been personally targeted with Pegasus, said that the increasing use of the Israeli-made spyware represents "the grave deterioration that rule of law" is suffering in many member states.

Other EU member states like Hungary and Poland have acknowledged that they have this spyware to spy on political opponents and journalists — prompting calls to ban such technology in the bloc.

The EU's top privacy watchdog, the European Data Protection Supervisor, argued in favour of banning the Pegasus spyware earlier in February while a number of advocacy groups have called on EU member states to impose sanctions on the NSO Group, which is behind the development of Pegasus.

Opinion

Is EU 'Horizon' science funding going towards Pegasus spyware?

MEPs have raised questions about the involvement of the EU — through its funding — in the development of the Israeli NSO Pegasus software, directly or indirectly, which has been used to target activists and journalists in Europe.

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.

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.

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.

Pegasus spyware makers grilled by MEPs

"We will not continue to work with a customer that is targeting a journalist illegally," Chaim Gelfand, chief compliance officer of NSO Group told MEPs — but shed little light on EU governments' use of its Pegasus spyware.

Frontex leadership candidates grilled by MEPs

Terezija Gras from Croatia, Dutchman Hans Leijtens, and Frontex's current interim executive director Aija Kalnaja, are all competing for a job left vacant by the resignation of Fabrice Leggeri.

Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?

Over the last 10 years, Portugal has given 1,470 golden visas to people originating from countries whose tax-transparency practices the EU finds problematic. But unlike common practice in other EU states with similar programmes, Portugal has not implemented "due diligence".

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