EU panics over SPYING after states accused of bugging phones – desperate probe launched

Catalonia: Expert on EU stripping separatists of immunity

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The EU investigation launches today, April 19, after reports emerged that Poland and Hungary were using Israeli spyware Pegasus to target government opposition members and journalists. MEP Hannah Neumann, a member of the committee, said: “It is clear now that we are not only talking about some dictators in third countries, when it comes to such abuses of spyware.

“The European Parliament needs to send a joined and strong response and we expect all member states to fully cooperate with the Pegasus inquiry committee.”

Speaking to Politico, she added: “An attack on one of us, is an attack on all of us. These hacks undermine parliamentary immunity and jeopardise the core of our parliamentary democracy.”

Catalonia’s regional leader accused the Spanish government on Monday, April 18, of spying on its citizens after a rights group said his phone and dozens more belonging to Catalan pro-independence figures had been infected with spyware used by sovereign states.

The Citizen Lab digital rights group found more than 60 people linked to the Catalan separatist movement, including several members of the European Parliament, other politicians, lawyers and activists, had been targeted with “Pegasus” spyware made by Israel’s NSO Group after a failed independence bid.

NSO said the information about the allegations was false.

“It’s an unjustifiable disgrace,” Catalan leader Pere Aragones tweeted. “An extremely serious attack on fundamental rights and democracy.”

Describing the use of surveillance software as crossing a “red line”, he demanded explanations from the Spanish government.

The government declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.

NSO, which markets the software as a law-enforcement tool, said Citizen Lab and Amnesty International, which was not involved in this investigation but has published previous studies about Pegasus, had produced inaccurate and unsubstantiated reports to target the company.

“Information raised regarding these allegations are, yet again, false and could not be related to NSO products for technological and contractual reasons,” a spokesperson said via email without explaining why this was the case.

Toronto-based Citizen Lab said almost all of the infections took place between 2017 and 2020 in the wake of the independence bid by Catalonia that plunged Spain into its worst political crisis in years.

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It said it could not conclusively attribute the spying operations to a specific entity but said: “Strong circumstantial evidence suggests a nexus with Spanish authorities.”

Citizen Lab began its investigation in 2020 after researchers working with Facebook’s instant message service WhatsApp warned several Catalan lawmakers, including parliament speaker Roger Torrent, that their phones had been broken into.

At that time, Interior Minister Fernando Marlaska denied the Spanish government or its intelligence services had any involvement.

Newspaper El Pais subsequently reported that Spain’s CNI intelligence agency did have access to the software.

Amnesty urged Spain to investigate the use of Pegasus and disclose whether it was a client of NSO.

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The European Union’s data protection watchdog has called for a ban on Pegasus over allegations it has been abused by client governments to spy on rights activists, journalists and politicians.

Last week, Reuters reported that several senior EU officials had also been targeted by the software.

Citizen Lab said on Monday, April 18, it had warned British officials that electronic devices connected to government networks, including some inside the prime minister’s office and foreign ministry, appeared to be infected with the Israeli-made spy software.

“We confirm that in 2020 and 2021 we observed and notified the government of the United Kingdom of multiple suspected instances of Pegasus spyware infections within official UK networks,” the digital rights watchdog said in a blog post.

An NSO spokesperson said the allegations are “false and could not be related to NSO products for technological and contractual reasons”.

A British government spokesperson said “we do not routinely comment on security matters”.

Citizen Lab said it believed the targeting connected to the prime minister’s office was done by NSO clients in the United Arab Emirates while the British foreign ministry hacking came from other countries, including Cyprus, Jordan and India.

Cyprus authorities “categorically deny” any involvement in the matter, government spokesperson Marios Pelekanos told Reuters.

“However, to avoid any further speculations on a Cyprus link, we note that the Government of the Republic of Cyprus, which enjoys excellent relations with the British Government in all fields, has never been approached with any sort of inquiry on the subject at large by the relevant British authorities,” he said in an emailed statement.

Pegasus can be used to remotely break into iPhones, giving clients deep access into a targeted phone’s memory or turning them into recording devices.

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