23rd Mar 2023

Poland snubs EU Parliament's spyware probe

  • Polish authorities refuse to cooperate with the Pegasus inquiry committee (Photo: European Parliament)
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Polish government authorities snubbed a European Parliament probe into spyware Pegasus by refusing to show up to an inquiry on Thursday (15 September).

"The flat out refusal of the Polish authorities to cooperate with our committee is extremely regretful," said Jeroen Lenaers, a Dutch centre-right MEP heading the committee probe.

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Poland's interior minister Mariusz Kamiński from the ruling Law and Justice party had been invited — but then informed the committee that he would not be meeting them in Poland either, said Lenaers.

Lenaers also said their invitation to Poland's justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro was left unanswered.

The discussion on Thursday is part of a wider debate on the use of the Israeli spyware Pegasus, which had been used to target opposition politicians in Poland, as well as lawyers and prosecutors.

Among them, and present at Thursday's hearing, was Ewa Wrzosek, a prosecutor fighting against government attempts to undermine its judicial independence.

Wrzosek was last November alerted by Apple that her iPhone had been hacked, a fact later confirmed by the University of Toronto-based researchers at Citizen Lab.

Kamiński's no-show at Thursday's hearing triggered a sharp rebuke from Wrzosek — who noted that the minister had been convicted in 2015 for the abuse of power.

"For him to have access to such tools, to have such powers, including access to the private details of the surveilled person," she said.

Shortly after Kamiński was given a pardon, he was appointed by prime minister at the time Beata Szydło — to coordinate Poland's secret services.

Pegasus was purchased reportedly under the aegis of Szydło, who is currently an MEP and vice-chair of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group.

Polish authorities have denied using it against opposition politicians. and prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki had earlier described the hack revelation as "fake news".

But the evidence gathered by Citizen Lab and Amnesty International suggests otherwise, posing additional rule-of-law questions on a government already at loggerheads with the European Commission for undermining the independence of the judiciary.

Amnesty International says they have confirmed six cases of unlawful surveillance in Poland.

The NGO's country director, Anna Błaszczak-Banasia, said it was safe to assume that Polish authorities were deliberating targeting opposition politicians with Pegasus.

Other known victims include opposition Civic Platform senator Krzysztof Brejza, who was targeted in 2019 during the Polish parliamentary election campaign.

At the time, Brejza was himself head of the Civic Coalition election campaign.

Traces of the Israeli software were also found on Magdalena Łośko's phone, when she was his assistant.

Attempts had also been made to infect the phones of former deputy treasury ministers Pawel Tamborski and Rafal Baniak.

Some 61 attacks had also been registered against Andrzej Długosz, a lobbyist and PR expert.

Tusk's lawyer

Other high profile cases include Roman Giertych, the lawyer of former EU council president Donald Tusk.

Giertych, who was also present at Thursday's hearing, likened the surveillance abuse to authoritarian regimes.

"There was messages filtered out of my conversations with Donald Tusk," he said. "Transcribing such conversations between client and his lawyer is a very serious crime in any country," he added.

Giertych said such practices by the state can be compared to "totalitarian countries such as Turkey or Russia."

But he also noted that Poland still has a free media and that next year's parliamentary election could see the ruling party wiped out.

"I'm sure that in a year the Polish government will be ready to cooperate and provide all the data that is of interest to you," he said, also in a snub to Thursday's ministerial no shows.

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