EU lawmakers on Monday voted to press member states and the European Commission to strictly regulate government use of spyware after scandals involving the Pegasus software, an Israeli-made tool.
A special committee in the European Parliament looking into the issue overwhelmingly adopted the recommendations, and called for those who had used Pegasus to spy on the smartphones of politicians and journalists to be held accountable.
The 14-month parliament inquiry ended up “shedding light on the anti-democratic and illicit practices of some EU governments, and still I have to say little to no meaningful action has been taken,” said the inquiry report’s lead MEP, Sophie in ‘t Veld.
The lawmakers’ probe covered Pegasus use in EU members Spain, Greece, Poland, Cyprus, and Hungary and also gathered information from Israel, where the software was made by the company NSO.
It was launched after an investigation by a consortium of 17 media outlets uncovered the use of Pegasus to spy on 180 journalists, 600 politicians, 85 rights activists, and 65 business bosses, in different countries.
Pegasus, which can be surreptitiously installed in a target’s smartphone, is able to read messages, geolocate and secretly turn on the device’s camera and microphone. NSO markets the technology as a tool to target criminals but many cases have been discovered worldwide of governments using it against dissidents, journalists and political opponents.
In ‘t Veld, speaking in the committee, said that if the commission and the European Council representing the member states “follow up vigorously this cannot happen again.”
But she also stressed that “justice has not been done” in punishing anybody over the use of Pegasus in Europe or its export by EU countries to other nations.
Investigations in EU countries have been “hampered by obstruction, intimidation, and harassment,” she said, noting that some governments had wrongly invoked “national security” to shield the use of Pegasus.
She added that she expected the bloc’s executive “to act swiftly” now that the committee report had been adopted.
Among the report’s recommendations were that the use of Pegasus and similar spyware be effectively halted, and that a European tech lab be created to help citizens targeted by such software.