Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) want to curb the rampant use and abuse of spyware in the bloc.

MEPs are planning to propose that Brussels be given broad and overriding powers to enforce laws aimed at curbing improper use of spyware. They claim that a ‘federal-style’ mandate is needed because investigations have found that member states often have little incentive to follow the current rules governing the use of spyware.

Sophie in ’t Veld, a Dutch MEP, is overseeing a report detailing how the technology is currently used. Her report, which is to be published on November 8, will suggest that more powers be given to Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency. Currently, Europol can only operate with the consent of member states. The report will demand more autonomy for the agency in investigating spyware abuse.

Pegasus

In March 2022, MEPs set up a committee to investigate member states’ use of surveillance technology, including Pegasus, a spyware tool developed by Israeli spyware provider NSO.

Last year, a report by the Washington Times showed that Pegasus was used by EU states to target the smartphones belonging to dozens of journalists, human rights activists and other prominent figures. NSO has denied the claims.

Insiders say that the MEPs’ report will undoubtedly be met with resistance by several EU states, especially those that use spyware to spy on citizens for political reasons. Spyware has reportedly been used against opposing politicians and journalists in Greece, Spain, Hungary and Poland.

Spyware is worse than previously thought

In ’t Veld told the Financial Times that the extent of the spyware problem was much more severe than previously thought. “This is not about a handful of governments spying on their citizens, it is all over Europe. All governments are using this stuff, some governments are abusing it”, she said.

The scale of the problem has spurred In ‘t Veld and her cohorts to push for Brussels to have “super” powers similar to those wielded by the US federal government. “We cannot have an open European Union if we do not have all these super supranational instruments for the enforcement of the rules”, the MEP concluded.