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Hungary MPs demand investigation into government’s alleged use of NSO malware

Opposition lawmakers in Hungary’s parliament have demanded an inquiry into findings by an international investigation that the country’s right-wing government used powerful malware to spy on critical journalists, politicians and business figures.

The investigation by a global media consortium suggested that military-grade spyware from Israel-based NSO Group, was used in Hungary to infiltrate the digital devices of a range of targets — including at least 10 lawyers, one opposition politician and at least five journalists.

The results of the investigation, headed by the French nonprofit journalism organization Forbidden Stories, were published Sunday, prompting three members of Hungary’s parliamentary national security committee to call for an emergency session to question government agencies on their potential involvement in the spying.

View of the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest. (Flickr/Dennis Jarvis)

Janos Stummer, the committee’s chairman and a lawmaker from the right-wing opposition party Jobbik, tells The Associated Press that the surveillance described by the investigation is “not permissible in a state governed by the rule of law.”

The committee will question Hungary’s national security and intelligence agencies on the allegations, he says, adding that a majority of seats on the committee are held by governing party lawmakers who could potentially block the inquiry by boycotting the session.

“Our perspective is that staying silent would essentially be an acknowledgement that the government is indeed involved in this,” Stummer says.

The investigation, drawing from a list of more than 50,000 cellphone numbers obtained by Forbidden Stories and the human rights group Amnesty International, identified more than 1,000 individuals in 50 countries who were allegedly selected by NSO clients for potential surveillance.

The malware, Pegasus, infiltrates phones to vacuum up personal and location data and surreptitiously control the smartphone’s microphones and cameras. In the case of journalists, that lets hackers spy on reporters’ communications with sources.

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