ATHENS – Banning release of any information from a parliamentary committee looking into the phone bugging and alleged cell phone surveillance of political targets, Greece is moving to ban the use of spyware.
The version called Predator was reportedly in use in Greece, but the government said it wasn’t using the software to track anyone on their phones.
The New Democracy government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said it would prohibit the sale of spyware but it wasn’t said what that means for the new owner of Predator, an Israeli former intelligence agent who bought it from a North Macedonia company and has offices in Athens.
“We will be the first country to tackle this problem and enact legislation that will explicitly ban the sale of such software in our country. No other country has done it. All countries have the same problem,” he said.
The move, said Reuters, came after the news site Documento, which is close to the major opposition SYRIZA, published the names of 33 people who were said to be tracked by spyware, including government ministers and one of their wives as well as former party leaders and stalwarts and business people.
Government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said the report that the government was behind the spyware surveillance was “unfounded” and denied the state had bought or used it but that judicial authorities will investigate.
Greece, he told reporters, will soon submit a bill to parliament banning the sale of spyware. “We won’t allow any shadow to remain on issues that poison Greek society,” he said.
The Documento report further rocked the Conservative government with mid-2023 elections coming and surveys showed it’s a problem for Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis with many disbelieving denials of its use.
Most of the alleged targets, including a former conservative prime minister and the current foreign and finance ministers, declined to comment, or told the newspaper that they were unaware of it, the report also added.
In July, PASOK-KINAL socialist opposition leader Nikos Androulakis filed a complaint with top court prosecutors over an attempted bugging of his mobile phone with surveillance software and said his conversations were monitored.
Mitsotakis said the surveillance was in the national interest and was legal but that it was wrong to follow Androulakis and he wouldn’t have allowed it, but he didn’t comment about the reported bugging of journalist Thanasis Koukakis, who said it was done by the National Intelligence Service EYP.
A special European parliamentary committee (PEGA) that is investigating the use of Pegasus and similar surveillance spyware concluded a visit to Greece and Cyprus and said it was stonewalled in Athens.
The panel’s leader, Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld, said her delegation essentially was stonewalled by the government which claimed national security prevented discussing surveillance methods.
“We will not find that proof as long as the authorities are not willing to share official information with us,” she said, adding that, “everything is pointing in the direction of people in government circles.”