Spyware ‘grossly abused’ by Hungarian Government

Spyware ‘grossly abused’ by Hungarian Government
Credit: Dimitry B / Creative Commons

A delegation from the European Parliament has detected what appears to be spyware use in Hungary, following a two-day visit by MEPs from the PEGA committee investigating spyware in the EU.

During the two-day official visit to Budapest, MEPs met with parliamentarians, data protection authorities and those targeted with spyware. It noted that those who had been targeted were all “critics of the government.”

“Everything indicates that spyware has been grossly abused in Hungary; I find the authorities' explanation citing national security very unconvincing," head of the delegation MEP Jeroen Lenaers (EPP, NL) stated in a press conference at the end of the visit.

“Strong evidence indicates that people have been spied on with the objective to gain even more political and financial control over the public sphere and media mark.”

Like Greece, Hungary has sought to justify the use of spyware on the grounds of national security: “Are demonstrators, journalists, and lawyers really such a threat to public safety and security that abusive and invasive spyware has to be used?”

MEPs stressed that they had not heard sufficient information to “justify the intrusive surveillance of spyware victims.” They expressed regret for the Hungarian Government's unexplained refusal to participate: “It seems that transparency and dialogue are not this government’s way of working,” said Lenaers.

Press conference of the PEGA Mission to Hungary. Credit: EP Photo

Following a preliminary enquiry into spyware, a request made by the Hungarian Parliament’s National Security Committee to undertake further investigations was voted down by the governing majority.

'Biggest threat to democracy'

MEPs also believe the rule of law and democratic standards have been seriously breached in Hungary. They said the situation is “among the worst in the EU.” In November 2022, the European Commission found that Hungary had “not progressed enough” in strengthening the rule of law and anti-corruption reforms, following long-standing tensions over Hungary's domestic situation.

“As a result of years of democratic backsliding, state institutions do not seem to be geared towards serving citizens and protecting their rights and freedoms, but rather the political objectives of the government,” Lenaers concluded.

MEPs Jeroen Lenaers and Sophia In't Veld at the press conference following the PEGA Mission to Hungary, 21 February 2023. Credit: EP Photo

The PEGA committee will now propose solutions to safeguard citizens against abuse, calling on the authorities to allow a meaningful investigation of abusive spyware practices for political purposes. MEPs are pushing for the regulation of spyware to be seen as a rule of law issue, which needs judicial oversight.

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MEPs will now submit their findings to the European Commission, which has yet to take action despite clear breaches of human rights and democratic standards. In an interview with The Brussels Times last week, Stelios Kouloglou MEP stated the Commission's inaction meant it was "participating" in the cover-up of spyware abuses across the EU.

Fellow PEGA member and committee rapporteur, MEP Sophie In’t Veld (Greens/EFA - NL) told reporters at the press conference in Budapest that the abuse of spyware is the “biggest threat to democracy at this moment in time. Because it is used by those in power to hold on to their power.”

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