Lawmakers say EU not tackling phone surveillance scandal

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Parliament’s inquiry committee investigating the use of surveillance spyware by bloc governments said on Tuesday that the EU executive and member countries were failing to properly tackle a surveillance scandal that targeted opposition politicians and journalists.

In a draft report published on Tuesday, the Pegasus Inquiry Committee said the European Council and national governments were “practicing omertà” – or a code of silence – and regretted that the European Commission had shared only “reluctant and piecemeal” information about spyware attacks. employees.

A Commission spokesperson replied that any attempt by the national security services to illegally access citizens’ data “is unacceptable” and insisted that it had already started to take measures to protect journalists against the use of spyware.

The parliamentary committee investigated governments’ use of Israeli spyware Pegasus and other invasive surveillance tools, deeming the technology a threat to democracy in the 27-nation bloc.

Pegasus was developed by Israeli group NSO and is designed to hack into cell phones and extract large 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 numerous cases have been uncovered around the world of governments using it against dissidents, journalists and political opponents.

According to European lawmakers, the NSO Group has sold its products in at least 14 EU countries.

“In at least four member states, Poland, Hungary, Greece and Spain, there has been illegitimate use of spyware, and there are suspicions of its use in Cyprus,” they said. , adding that Cyprus and Bulgaria act as a hub for exports. Spyware.

“Member state governments have largely declined the invitation to cooperate with the PEGA committee,” the lawmakers said. “Some governments were outright uncooperative, others were friendly and polite but didn’t really share meaningful information. Even a simple questionnaire sent to all member states on the details of their national legal framework for the use of spyware, received hardly any substantial responses.”

The committee also lamented that Europol, the EU’s crime-fighting agency, did not open an investigation into the case.

“Only after being pressed by the European Parliament did he send a letter to five member states, asking them if a police investigation had been opened and if they could help,” the authorities said. legislators in their draft report.

After debates with the political groups of the Parliament and the possible addition of amendments, a vote on the final conclusions of the committee will take place next year.

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