Pegasus is a military grade spyware tool developed and licensed by the Israeli company, the NSO Group. It was used in different countries to target smartphones belonging to journalists, human rights activists, and opposition figures, and has been “widely misused”, according to an investigation by journalism non-profit organisation Forbidden Stories, released in July 2021. The spyware can be installed remotely on a smartphone without requiring any action from its owner and without leaving a trace. It effectively mirrors a phone’s encrypted messages, from e.g. WhatsApp and Signal, and turns it into a surveillance device by switching on the microphone and camera.
The recent revelations that the PiS Government in Poland used Pegasus for surveillance of political opponents and prosecutors are appalling. The reports follow other disturbing examples in another EU Member State, Hungary, where the Fidesz Government is accused of having deployed Pegasus software against journalists. It is crucial that such technology is not used illegally or arbitrarily. The disturbing examples in Poland and Hungary are inexcusable.
Pegasus is eroding our democracy. At stake is the integrity of our Union and of our democratic institutions, including that of the European Parliament.
The illegal tapping of political opponents and journalists is not only against EU law; it is also against fundamental EU values such as media freedom and freedom of speech. However, the abuse of Pegasus is not just a Polish or Hungarian issue but it is a question of our security in Europe, the security of our citizens and of the supervision of the activities of the secret services. The new surveillance tools pose significant challenges to fundamental rights, such as the right to privacy. We must acknowledge increasing illegal surveillance threats and outline possible measures to mitigate risks to democracy and the rights of citizens. To understand the risks, we should put ourselves for a moment in the position of the victims. Imagine that a government reads every single message you share with your loved ones, that every video you watch on your phone is being watched with you, that all the time, people that don’t have your best interests at heart are aware of your exact whereabouts. This is scary!
It is very important that the European Parliament stands behind and fights alongside the victims of such attacks with strength and vigour. The consequences of these attacks go beyond the harm done to individual victims. They affect everybody who wants to scrutinise a government and defend democracy and the rule of law. It is a cyberattack on democracy, a direct assault on democracy. It is a repression and violation of human rights, and we have to oppose it. The scandal is not that modern digital technologies are used by secret services in order to effectively fight terrorism or dangerous criminals. Secret services should, and indeed must, have capabilities of this kind at their disposal. Nevertheless, there is one condition - they must not be used as weapons in political battles nor against democratic processes, institutions, politicians or journalists. The Pegasus spyware has been used far beyond its original design as a means of combating terrorism.
The European Parliament took a strong stance on this matter. A majority in the European Parliament agreed on setting up an Inquiry Committee to look into the illegal use of the Pegasus spyware by certain EU Member States. This is not a matter of better regulation of a few private companies. This is a battle for control of a speedily increasing cyber weapons industry, which is not only highly profitable, but gives those states that can supervise the industry enormous influence over other states. Pegasus is eroding our democracy. At stake is the integrity of our Union and of our democratic institutions, including that of the European Parliament.
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The EPP Group is the largest political group in the European Parliament with 176 Members from all EU Member States