European Commission accused of not doing enough to tackle spyware abuse

European Commission accused of not doing enough to tackle spyware abuse
Credit: Belga / Nicolas Maeterlinck

The European Parliament has attacked the European Commission for its "insufficient" response to curbing spyware abuse across Member States.

With 425 votes in favour, 108 against, and 23 abstaining, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the lack of follow-up to the Parliament’s proposals from an inquiry which exposed the extent of Pegasus and equivalent surveillance spyware use.

MEPs are urging the Commission to present legislation without any further delays. The EU executive says it is currently clarifying the boundaries between EU law and national security, following the European Council having carved out an exemption for spyware use on national security grounds without safeguards for fundamental rights.

Addressing MEPs on Wednesday, European Commissioner Didier Reynders stressed that the Commission "strongly condemns" any illegal access to personal communications or data. "Any attempt to illegally access data of citizens including journalists and political opponents, if confirmed, is unacceptable," he told the hemicycle.

In reaction to the vote, the office of MEP Sophie In ’t Veld, one of the leading members of the PEGA inquiry, welcomed the vote as "positive" but stressed that it is "very difficult to be satisfied" with the whole situation.

"The European Commission is making a deliberate choice to shield Member States from repercussions – while it is those very Member States who are the perpetrators of spyware abuse," her office told The Brussels Times. "In short, the perpetrators have a say in the response to their misdeeds."

"Spyware abuse has already had its malign influence on elections in several Member States," In ’t Veld’s office continued, noting the growing concern about the effect of spyware on running of free and fair elections.

Latest developments

MEPs have also highlighted the new developments and cases of spyware abuse in Europe since the end of the inquiry.

In Greece, two Greek intelligence officials are facing criminal charges, and the privacy watchdog (ADAE) has been subjected to unexpected changes to the spyware abuse investigation, including the transfer of the case to a different prosecutor.

In Poland, the national inquiry committee concluded that people were targeted with spyware for political reasons, whereas in Spain, the spyware inquiry has been provisionally dismissed due to a lack of cooperation by Israeli authorities.

MEPs are increasingly concerned about the sale of spyware to authoritarian regimes, with French company Nexa Technologies cited for selling Predator to repressive regimes, including Egypt, Vietnam and Madagascar.

In Ireland, there is an ongoing investigation into the role of Intellexa Group and the sale of spyware. Although reports suggest violations of the EU’s dual-use export controls, MEPs underlined that there has been no credible follow-up from the European Commission.

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