WARSAW – Members of the European Parliament investigating the use of spy software to monitor European Union governments sharply criticized Israel on Wednesday for a lack of transparency in allowing the sale of powerful Israeli spy software to European governments that have used it against critics.
European lawmakers also condemned the Polish government for refusing to meet with them during a familiarization visit to Warsaw that ended on Wednesday.
“It is regrettable and we condemn the fact that the Polish authorities did not want to cooperate with our investigative committee,” said the head of the delegation, Jeroen Lenaers, at a press conference in Warsaw.
“We believe it is also indicative of the complete lack of importance this government places on checks and balances, democratic oversight and dialogue with elected representatives.”
The committee is investigating governments’ use of Israel’s Pegasus spy software and other invasive surveillance tools, viewing the technology as a threat to democracy in the 27-nation bloc.
Pegasus was developed by Israel’s NSO Group and is designed to hack mobile phones and extract vast amounts of information from them, including text messages, passwords, location and microphone and camera recordings. The company markets the technology as a tool to fight criminals, but there have been many cases of its use by governments around the world against dissidents, journalists and political opponents.
In Europe, cyber intelligence has found traces of Pegasus or other spyware in Poland, Hungary, Spain and Greece.
Sophie in ‘t Veld, the inquiry’s rapporteur, said the committee had learned that the NSO group sold spyware to 14 EU governments using export licenses issued by the Israeli government. It became known that NSO stopped selling to two of them, but did not say which ones. It is widely believed to be Poland and Hungary because of their democratic backsliding.
“Why can’t we say with certainty that Poland was one of the two countries with which the contract was terminated?” she said. “Why is NSO allowed to operate in the European Union, to run its finances through Luxembourg, to sell its products now in 12 member states, products that have been used to violate the rights of European citizens and to attack the democracy of the European Union?”
Israel, an ally, must “cooperate with us in protecting our citizens,” she said.
In ‘t Veld, she also expects most EU countries to use spyware infrequently and with oversight, but that others, including Poland, have used it “against citizens,” making it “a tool for an authoritarian political agenda.” .
Greece was shaken thanks to revelations that Nikos Androulakis, a member of the European Parliament and head of Greece’s third-largest political party, was monitored last year with Predator spyware as he ran for the leadership of his PASOK party. A financial journalist was also under surveillance.
It follows revelations of the use of spyware against government critics in Poland and Hungary and against Catalan separatists in Spain.
During their visit, which began on Monday, the 10-member delegation met with Poles targeted by the spying software, including a prosecutor and a senator, as well as other officials, including members of the Senate-controlled opposition, who are investigating the use of Pegasus .
They will publish a report of their findings and recommendations on November 8.
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