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EU lawmakers criticize Israel over spyware sales

European Parliament members investigating the use of surveillance spyware by European Union governments on Wednesday sharply criticized Israel for a lack of transparency in allowing the sale of spyware to European governments that have used it against critics, The Associated Press reports.

The European lawmakers also condemned the Polish government for refusing to meet with them during a fact-finding visit to Warsaw that ended Wednesday.

  • The committee is 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.

  • In February, the Finnish foreign ministry said it had detected Pegasus in several phones used by its diplomats abroad.

The Finnish announcement followed a report in The New York Times which said that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu worked to ensure that Saudi Arabia would be able to use the Pegasus software, around the time that the Abraham Accords were signed with the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

  • More recently, Canada’s Citizen Lab group said that at least 65 people linked to the Catalan separatist movement had been targets of the Pegasus spyware after a failed independence bid in 2017.

The US Commerce Department recently blacklisted NSO Group, prohibiting it from using American technology in its operations.

Apple sued the Israeli firm in late November, seeking a permanent injunction to ban NSO Group from using Apple software, services, or devices.

NSO Group says the software is only sold to government agencies to target criminals and terrorists, and sales require Israeli government approval.

Sophie in ’t Veld, the rapporteur of the EU inquiry, said on Wednesday the committee has learned that the NSO group has sold spyware to 14 EU governments, using export licenses issued by the Israeli government.

It learned that NSO stopped selling to two of those, but won’t say which ones. They are widely believed to be Poland and Hungary due to their democratic backsliding.

  • “Why can we not say with certainty that Poland was one of the two countries of which the contract has been terminated?” she said.
  • “Why is it that NSO is allowed to operate in the European Union, conduct its finances through Luxembourg, sell its products to now 12 member states, products that have been used to violate the rights of European citizens and to attack democracy of the European Union?”

Israel, an ally, should “cooperate with us in the protection of our citizens,” she added.

  • In ‘t Veld also she would expect most EU countries to use spyware in rare cases, and with oversight, but that others including Poland have used it “against citizens,” making it “a tool for an authoritarian political agenda.”

Source: Arutz Sheva