EP Pegasus committee head: Pegasus spyware ‘grossly abused in Hungary’
Jeroen Lenaers and rapporteur Sophia in ‘t Veld held a press conference after a two-day visit to Budapest, as part of an investigation in several member states into possible misuse of the Pegasus spyware developed by an Israeli company. Reports published in mid-2021 said some 300 Hungarians had been targets of surveillance.
Lenaers told the press conference many of the questions of the delegation had “remained unanswered”.
The Hungarian government rejected meeting the delegation shortly before its arrival, without giving proper justification, he said. He said Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga “chose to attack us with… conspiracy theories on foreign forces attacking Hungary”.
Lenaers, a Dutch MEP, said they received no explanation on why so many people had been wiretapped by Hungarian authorities. “Are demonstrators, lawyers and journalists really such a threat to public safety?” He said Hungarian authorities had cited national security concerns as a “blanket reason to target anyone…”
Lenaers said the practice ran afoul of EU legislation, and urged the Hungarian government to “follow EU law and safeguard fundamental rights and provide the citizens of Hungary with proper options for redress.”
“Here in Hungary, it is clear that people feel that their basic rights are systematically violated,” Lenaers said.
Victim protection and legal remedies are “insufficient” because the targets of the spyware are not notified after the surveillance has ended, which goes against the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, Lenaers said.
He called on the government to stop using the broad term “national security concerns” as a reason for surveillance.
Sophia in ‘t Veld said using spyware against people “vital for democracy” such as journalists, NGOs and opposition politicians harms the rule of law itself. She said Pegasus can excessively intrude the target’s private life by accessing the entire content of their mobile phone.
Veld, also a Dutch MEP, called the abuse of spyware “the biggest threat to democracy at this moment in time”.
Spyware concerns are “very much Europe’s business, because every single member state is a part of the European Union,” she said. “With the use of spyware, you can manipulate elections,” she warned.
The committee is expected to prepare its final report in April, the head of the delegation said.