Spyware found on phones of MEPs sitting on security and defence committee

Spyware found on phones of MEPs sitting on security and defence committee
Credit: Belga / Siska Gremmelprez

Spyware has been found on two phones of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) sitting on the security and defence subcommittee, the institution revealed on Wednesday.

The European Parliament has uncovered intrusive surveillance software, known as spyware, on the phones of two members of the SEDE subcommittee. According to an internal email, the institution has invited all committee members to take their mobile phones to the parliament’s IT services for further analysis.

"In the given geopolitical context and given the nature of the files followed by the Subcommittee on Security and Defence, special attention is dedicated to the devices of the Members of this subcommittee and the staff supporting its work," the European Parliament said in a statement.

While it is not known who was behind the spyware attacks, the target of MEPs on the security and defence committee comes in a moment of rising geopolitical tensions. The most recent trips of the committee in December 2023 include India and Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

"The European Parliament constantly monitors cybersecurity threats against its working environment," a European Parliament spokesperson told The Brussels Times. "Due to the nature of the activity in itself, we don't comment further on EP security or cybersecurity matters – or the tools used in this specific procedure."

Since the first discovery of spyware in March 2022, the President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola offered the possibility to all MEPs to run a spyware detection of their private phones and computers.

"Hundreds of operations have been carried out since the launch of the programme in April 2022," stated the EP spokesperson, clarifying that the support was available to all MEPs should they want it. Over 250 MEPs have undergone checks, with 500 tests carried out.

Notable targets of spyware infection include Parliament President Metsola, senior officials from the European Commission, Greek opposition MEPs, Catalan separatist politicians and more.

In May 2023, a European Parliament inquiry called for tighter regulation of surveillance spyware targeting political opponents, journalists and civil society. It flagged concerns that the EU is not ready to deal with such threats. 

Despite heavy lobbying from human rights organisations, the European Media Freedom Act (EFMA) was finalised in early February without a full ban on spyware use in the EU – allowing its use in certain security contexts.

"It casts a dark shadow over the EU’s ability to stop Member States’ surveillance abuses," Chloé Berthélémy, Senior Policy Advisor at European Digital Rights told The Brussels Times last month after it was passed.

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