EU launches rare investigation into Pegasus spyware scandal | European Union

The European Parliament is preparing to launch a commission of inquiry into the Pegasus spyware scandal after evidence emerged that government critics in Poland and Hungary were being targeted by the surveillance software.

The cross-party body will seek testimony from member states’ intelligence services, elected politicians and senior civil servants, with a previous investigation into Europe’s alleged facilitation of CIA ‘black sites’ providing a template.

The decision is the most significant so far since Brussels since a group of media organisations, including the Guardian, revealed that Pegasus software was being used against journalists, activists and politicians in numerous countries around the world. , including in Europe.

This follows the Israeli government’s announcement this week that it would investigate reports that Israeli police used Pegasus against its citizens. Local media claimed the list of targets included people involved in the corruption trial of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Pegasus allows an operator to take control of a target’s mobile device, access all data, even from encrypted messaging apps, and enable audio or video recording.

The investigation by the Guardian and 16 other outlets relied on forensic analysis of phones and a leaked database of 50,000 numbers, including that of French President Emmanuel Macron, European Council President Charles Michel , and other heads of state and senior government, diplomatic and military officials in 34 countries.

The Israeli company that makes the software, NSO Group, previously said the 50,000 figure was “exaggerated” and that the list could not be a list of numbers “targeted by governments using Pegasus”.

Analysis of phones in Europe showed that journalists, activists and lawyers in Hungary had been targeted with Pegasus.

A senior Hungarian government official appeared to confirm in November that the software had been purchased by the state, but this was later denied and ministers have since declined to comment.

Hungarian journalists plan to take legal action against the state and the NSO.

In Poland, a Senate committee saw documents in January suggesting the country’s Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA) purchased Pegasus in 2017 using Justice Ministry funds.

Law and Justice, the main ruling coalition party, boycotted the opposition-led Senate committee.

The European Parliament has launched a committee of inquiry only a few times, and the proposal has already received the required political support from a quarter of MEPs and the approval of political group leaders. It has been pushed by the Renew Europe political group in parliament where Macron’s La République en Marche MEPs sit, and is expected to be formally approved at a plenary session in Strasbourg next week.

Assuming that happens, the committee is expected to sit for 12 months from April, during which it will hold public sessions and seek relevant documents and oral and written testimony.

NSO Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the investigation, but in previous responses to the Guardian it said it could not confirm or deny whether particular countries were customers. He also insisted that his tools were only intended for use against criminals and terrorists, and should not be used against dissidents, activists or journalists.

The president of the Renew Europe group, Stéphane Séjourné, declared: “The Pegasus scandal is not only an attack on individual freedoms. It is an attack by autocratic regimes on the essence of our European democracies.

“When software developed to target terrorists is used against opposition politicians by European governments, it is really very serious.

“The scale of the allegations shows why we need a European response and that’s why we have led calls for the European Parliament to launch a tough commission of inquiry, which can consult experts and call witnesses from any Europe.”

Once the committee has completed its investigation, it will table a report for national governments and the European Commission.

“Nothing should be on the table and nothing should be left to chance,” said Séjourné. “We don’t just want information about the scale of the scandal, we want recommendations put on the table by the European Commission and national governments, so that it can never happen again.”

EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders told MPs in September that the European Commission had “totally condemned” alleged attempts by national security services to illegally access information about political opponents through their phones.

He said it was already the case, as confirmed by the European Court of Justice, that governments could not “restrict the confidentiality and integrity of communications” except in “very strictly limited” scenarios.

He also said a pending EU privacy regulation would further tighten the rules and called on MPs and member states to urgently agree on the details of the new law in light of the scandal. spyware.

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