Spyware in Europe: EU urged to protect journalists from intrusive surveillance

Spyware in Europe: EU urged to protect journalists from intrusive surveillance
Credit: EP Photo

MEPs have been urged by leading digital rights campaigners and unions to reject the intrusive surveillance of journalists, included in a new media law which is being voted on next week in the European Parliament. 

The European Media Freedom Act (EMFA) was initially designed to safeguard media freedom, pluralism and independence in the EU. In June, it emerged that wide-ranging exemptions were carved out by German and French ambassadors, now permitting the use of spyware against journalists in the name of "national security."

An open letter has been sent ahead of the vote on 3 October, calling on MEPs to "prohibit" any use of spyware on journalists in the EU.

"Media, journalists and human and digital rights organisations are calling for an unconditional prohibition of the use of spyware against journalists in Article 4," the open letter reads. It is signed by 80 organisations, including Access Now, the European Digital Rights Initiative and a large number of national and international journalist associations. 

Journalism under attack

Among the main issues are the violation of the right to privacy through accessing all communications, photos and online activity of journalists, as well as the fact that no legal safeguard can prevent governments from abusing its use – as has already happened in the EU.

Cases of spyware being used against journalists in the EU are already currently under investigation in Brussels. The PEGA committee in the European Parliament has done key work by shining a light on cases of spyware in Greece, Hungary, Spain and Poland.

Spyware remains a key concern for campaigners. Once a journalist’s device is infected (often without even having to click anything), nothing can prevent authorities "from retrieving data related to professional activity."

Campaigners are arguing that the use of spyware is not compatible with EU law, going against democratic norms and human rights – notably the freedom of expression.

Journalism is increasingly under threat, campaigners say, citing the "chilling effects resulting from surveillance and other intimidation tactics threaten to limit journalistic reporting."

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