Liberals in EU parliament seek probe into spyware abuse

The third-largest group in the European Parliament has called for a committee to investigate the EU government’s misuse of powerful spyware produced by Israel’s NSO Group

WARSAW, Poland — The third-largest group in the European Parliament on Wednesday called for the creation of a committee to investigate the European Union government’s misuse of powerful spyware produced by the Israel State Statistics Office Group.

Liberal political group Renew Europe appealed after reports that NSO Group’s Pegasus software had been used to hack into the smartphones of opposition politicians, lawyers, journalists and right-wing government critics in Hungary and Poland.

“We need a full investigation into the Pegasus spyware scandal. Democracy in Europe is being undermined and the EU should act accordingly,” said Sophie Interveld, a Dutch MP for the European Parliament and co-sponsor of the call for an inquiry. “We cannot let this pass; our democracy is at stake.”

In ‘t Veld said the executive arm of the European Commission, the 27-member union, should follow the US government’s lead by “quickly blacklisting Pegasus’ parent company NSO”.

The Biden administration imposed new export restrictions on Israel’s NSO Group in November, saying its tools had been used “to conduct transnational repression.”

In a statement, Renew said it hoped other groups would support its call, noting that the investigation would constitute the first action by EU institutions on the matter.

An investigation released in July by the Global Media Consortium found that Pegasus was used in Hungary to infiltrate digital devices of a range of targets, including at least 10 lawyers, an opposition politician and several journalists critical of the government.

In late December, the Associated Press reported that three Polish government critics were also hacked, according to an investigation by Citizen Lab, a research arm at the University of Toronto. Last week, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the ruling party, Poland’s most powerful politician, admitted the country had spyware but denied it was being used against political opponents.

Among the Polish victims was a lawyer, a prosecutor and a senator who was repeatedly hacked while leading the opposition parliamentary campaign in 2019.

The revelation of the hack shocked Poland, drawing comparisons to the Watergate scandal in the United States in the 1970s, and sparking calls for an investigative committee in parliament.

However, Kaczynski and other senior members of the ruling Law and Justice party said they saw no reason for an investigation. With a majority in the House of Commons or the Sejm, the party can block the investigation.

However, the narrowly opposed Senate moved this week to create a special committee to investigate the use of Pegasus, albeit with limited powers.

Only parliament, whose legal duty is to oversee the government, has the power to initiate investigations with full powers of inquiry, including calling witnesses. The Senate can invite witnesses but not require them to appear in court.