A European Parliament report slams Spain, Greece, Hungary and Poland for using Pegasus and other spyware to hack the phones of opposition figures and journalists.

(Matt Rourke / File / AP)

A draft report by the European Parliament has found that spyware was used "illegitimately" to conduct surveillance in at least four EU countries.

Members of Parliament have investigated a series of scandals about how spyware was used to hack the phones of opposition figures and journalists in countries including Spain, Greece, Hungary and Poland.

"The abuse of spyware in EU member states is a grave threat to democracy on the entire continent," the lawmaker who led the work on the report, Dutch MEP Sophie in 't Veld, told a news conference.

"It should not be possible to abuse it for political purposes... or for the purposes of hanging on to power, manipulating elections, or for the purposes of covering up corruption," In 't Veld said.

While investigating the spyware scandal, Veld said the four EU member states failed to cooperate with her probe examining the use of Israeli hacking software Pegasus - sold by the NSO group - and other similar spyware in targeting opposition figures and journalists. 

The special European Parliament committee tasked with the investigation also slammed the European Commission for failing to fully cooperate, only sharing “piecemeal" information about spyware attacks on its own employees. 

The committee also deplored that Europol, the EU's crime agency, did not start an investigation into the matter.

"Control and oppress"

A EU parliament committee of inquiry dubbed Pegasus was set up in March 2022 after 17 media outlets revealed the widespread use of hacking software by governments around the world.

The investigation revealed Pegasus had been used against human rights activists, politicians, journalists and others.

But other spyware programmes are also involved.

In Europe, Greece's government has been caught out by allegations it used software called "Predator" to try to spy on the leader of the opposition.

That led to Greece's intelligence chief and a close aide to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis being forced to resign. Greek journalists have also taken legal action after determining they, too, were targeted by spyware.

Spain's spy chief was sacked in May for his role in a scandal embroiling the government over the hacking of mobile phones of politicians and Catalan separatist leaders.

In 't Veld said that in Poland and Hungary, two EU countries ruled by populist governments with policies that have been at odds with Brussels' view of the rule of law, "spyware is an integral element of a system ... designed to control and even oppress the citizens".

She also noted that in Greek Administrated Cyprus more scrutiny was needed given indications spyware was being used there and said that the country was "the hub for exports of spyware".

In 't Veld called for a moratorium on the sale, acquisition, transfer and use of spyware in the EU, which would only be lifted case-by-case where widely accepted national security grounds were demonstrated, and checks were in place.

Once the parliamentary report on spyware is finalised, it is to be put to a vote on its adoption, expected by March next year at the earliest.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies