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MEPs probing Pegasus spyware scandal: EU, member states ‘are practicing omertà’

This studio photographic illustration shows a smartphone with the website of Israel's NSO Group which features 'Pegasus' spyware, on display in Paris, on July 21, 2021. (Joel Saget/AFP)
This studio photographic illustration shows a smartphone with the website of Israel's NSO Group which features 'Pegasus' spyware, on display in Paris, on July 21, 2021. (Joel Saget/AFP)

BRUSSELS — The European Parliament’s inquiry committee investigating the use of surveillance spyware by the bloc’s governments says the EU’s executive arm and member countries are failing to properly tackle a surveillance scandal that has targeted opposition politicians and journalists.

In a draft report published today, the committee investigating Pegasus says the European Council and national governments “are practicing omertà” — or a code of silence — and regrets that the European Commission only shared “reluctantly and piecemeal” information concerning spyware attacks on its own employees.

A spokesman for the Commission responds that any attempt from national security services to illegally access data of citizens “is unacceptable” and insists it has already started taking action to protect journalists from the use of spyware.

The Parliament committee has been investigating the use by governments of Israel’s Pegasus spyware and other invasive surveillance tools, viewing such technology as a threat to democracy in the 27-nation bloc.

Pegasus was developed by Israel’s NSO Group and is designed to breach mobile phones and extract vast amounts of information from them, including text messages, passwords, locations and microphone and camera recordings.

The company 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.

According to EU lawmakers, the NSO Group has sold its products in at least 14 EU countries.

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