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MEPs sound the alarm on “threat to democracy” and demand regulatory reforms

On Monday evening, the European Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry to investigate the use of Pegasus and equivalent surveillance spyware adopted its final report and recommendations to beef up the regulation and control of such technology throughout the European Union.

Their report follows a year-long inquiry into the abuse of spyware in the bloc, where programs like Pegasus have been used by some national governments to intimidate political opposition, silence critical media and manipulate elections.

The ministers’ report noted that current EU governance structures cannot effectively deal with such attacks and say reforms are needed.

Addressing “bad actor” governments

The lead MEP for the report, Sophie in ‘t Veld, said the parliament’s inquiry ended up “shedding light on the anti-democratic and illicit practices of some EU governments”. She hastened to add, however, that “still I have to say little to no meaningful action has been taken”.

The report condemned major violations of EU law in Poland and Hungary, where the use of Pegasus has been part of “a system for the surveillance of the opposition and critics of the government — designed to keep the ruling majority and the government in power”.

In addressing Greece, MEPs said that spyware served as “a tool used on an ad hoc basis for political and financial gains”. They also called on Spain to conduct “full, fair and effective” investigations, especially into the 47 cases where it is unclear who authorised the deployment of spyware.

Invoking national security to justify spyware

In general, investigations into the use of spyware in EU countries have been “hampered by obstruction, intimidation and harassment”, MEP in ‘t Veld said, adding that some governments had wrongly invoked “national security” to shield their use of Pegasus.

The MEPs’ report recommended that the use of Pegasus and similar spyware be effectively halted, with “EU rules on the use of spyware by law enforcement, which should only be authorised in exceptional cases for a pre-defined purpose and a limited time”. Moreover, they suggested that a European tech lab be created to help citizens targeted by such software.

It is difficult to imagine, however, that EU government leaders who have profited politically and financially from the use of PEGA will be eager to give up such an effective tool.