European Spyware Probers Slam Israel, Poland For Tracking Critics
European Parliament members investigating the use of surveillance spyware by European Union (EU) governments sharply criticized Israel on Wednesday for a lack of transparency in allowing the sale of powerful Israeli spyware to European governments that have used it against critics, Vanessa Gera reported for the Associated Press (AP).
Photo Insert: The European Parliament
The European lawmakers also condemned the Polish government for refusing to meet with them during a fact-finding visit to Warsaw that ended Wednesday.
“It is regrettable and we condemn the fact that the Polish authorities did not want to cooperate with our investigation committee,” Jeroen Lenaers, the head of the delegation, said at a news conference in Warsaw.
“We think it also is a telling sign of the complete lack of importance this government attaches to checks and balances, to democratic scrutiny, and to dialog with elected representatives.”
The committee is investigating the use by governments of Israel’s Pegasus spyware and other invasive surveillance tools, viewing such technology as a threat to democracy in the 27-nation bloc.
Pegasus was developed by Israel’s NSO Group and is designed to breach mobile phones and extract vast amounts of information from them, including text messages, passwords, locations, and microphone and camera recordings.
The company markets the technology as a tool to target criminals but many cases have been discovered worldwide of governments using it against dissidents, journalists, and political opponents.
In Europe, cybersleuths have found traces of Pegasus or other spyware in Poland, Hungary, Spain, and Greece.
Sophie in ’t Veld, the rapporteur of the inquiry, said the committee has learned that the NSO group has sold spyware to 14 EU governments, using export licenses issued by the Israeli government. It learned that NSO stopped selling to two of those, but won’t say which ones. They are widely believed to be Poland and Hungary due to their democratic backsliding.
Greece has been rocked by revelations that Nikos Androulakis, a European Parliament member and head of Greece’s third-largest political party, was put under surveillance last year with Predator spyware when he was running for his PASOK party’s leadership.
A financial journalist also was under surveillance. That follows revelations of spyware use against government critics in Poland and Hungary and against Catalan separatists in Spain.