European States Routinely Using Spyware, EU Parliament Report Warns
© AP Photo / Sebastian ScheinerA logo adorns a wall on a branch of the Israeli NSO Group company, near the southern Israeli town of Sapir, Aug. 24, 2021
© AP Photo / Sebastian Scheiner
The latest spyware scandal has broken in Greece, where media claimed two individuals infected the mobile phones of Pasok party leader Nikos Androulakis and other opposition figures allegedly on behalf of the ruling party.
European Union (EU) states are routinely using spyware to "control and oppress citizens," according to a new report by the bloc's parliament.
Governments are using snooping software like the now-infamous Pegasus from Israeli firm NSO Group to keep tabs on residents, the European Parliament report released on Tuesday said.
Privacy-conscious Europeans can "safely assume that all EU member states have purchased one or more commercial spyware products," Dutch MEP and report author Sophie in ‘t Veld said.
"No meaningful European oversight is in place; not to curb the illegal use of powerful spyware against individuals, nor to monitor the trade in these digital goods," she added.
The report also named and shamed Bulgaria and Cyprus as centres for exporting the technology, Ireland for providing a favourable tax regime for large sellers, and Luxembourg as the favoured banking centre for players in the industry. The Czech capital Prague is the venue for the spyware industry's annual convention, the ISS World "Wiretappers Ball".
The MEP was critical of the European Commission, the EU's unelected executive which has the sole power to draft legislation for MEPs to approve, for focussing on "threats" from outside the bloc — a thinly-veiled reference to the bloc's military aid to Ukraine for its conflict with Russia.
"The Commission is very determined to fight attacks on democracy from the outside”, ‘t Veld said. "But when the attacks on democracy come from within, the Commission is silent."
"Where the threat to democracy is not some faraway stranger, but the governments of EU member states, the Commission suddenly considered that the defence of European democracy is no longer a European matter, but a matter for the member states," she said.
18 July 2022, 12:22 GMT
On Monday, the Greek government announced that it would move to ban snooping software following newspaper claims that the mobile phones of several politicians, including opposition social-democratic Pasok leader Nikos Androulakis, had been infected with the Predator spyware programme by agents acting on behalf of the conservative New Democracy government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
"The spyware scandal is not a national scandal. It’s very much a European scandal," ‘t Veld said. "We tend to look at it through the keyhole of national politics. But if you connect the dots, suddenly another image emerges, and you see this is an entirely European matter."
"MEPs, Commissioners, and Commission officials have been targeted," she pointed out, while the guilty also include some who "sit on the European Council" — the committee of EU heads of government.