ATHENS – Greek Supreme Court Chief Prosecutor Isidoros Dogiakos said that the independent authority which oversees privacy rights has no right to investigate whose phones are being bugged by the National Intelligence Service EYP.
He threatened officials at the Hellenic Authority for Communication Security and Privacy (ADAE) with criminal prosecution if they attempt to proceed with trying to find out who is under surveillance, reported EURACTIV.
EYP admitted monitoring the phones of 15,745 people but refused to so who they were, citing national security as a reason, which critics said is a cover to keep the operations secret.
That was revealed previously as part of a surveillance scandal that developed with targets of the phone bugging also charging that Predator spyware was in use to try to capture data off their mobile phones.
While EYP and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the targets will remain secret, some names had leaked out, including investigative journalist Thanasis Koukakis and Nikos Androulakis, leader of the rival PASOK party.
With elections coming by July this year, government critics said that Mitsotakis is trying to keep the issue under wraps, and threatening prosecution of anyone who reveals details about the surveillance.
ADAE is an independent authority whose role is provided in the Greek constitution and a number of people have asked for its help in trying to find out if they are being monitored and why.
The government recently changed the law to prevent ADAE from conducting audits at phone companies to find out who EYP is tapping, cited by Dogiakos as his reason for the authority prohibited from proceeding.
He said the jurisdiction is in the hands now of a three-member panel made up of two prosecutors and the head of the ADAE, which is responsible for examining such requests on a case-by-case basis.
Dogiakos issued his opinion after a request from the phone company OTE whether to allow ADAE investigators from having access to phone records investigating the bugging of the phones of two other targets.
They were said to be investigative journalist Tasos Telloglou and a Member of the European Parliament, Giorgos Kyrtsos, who was booted from New Democracy after accusing the government of unlawful spying.
After ADAE looked into their phone records – the result hasn’t come out – sources not named told the Associated Press that decrees had earlier been given to lift the confidentiality of their phone communications.
Under the new law, Dogiakos said, ADAE “no longer has the authority to investigate suppliers and provide an answer to the affected individual,” but a number of Constitutional Law professors said the agency is required to do so.
HOLD THE PHONE
In December, 2022, EURACTIV reported that ADAE had conducted the audit at OTE and found the phones of Telloglou and Kyrtsos – who is suing over the matter – had been bugged over national security but other targets have said it was done for political reasons.
At the time, Dogiakos said he had reservations whether ADAE had the authority to carry out its probe although under its mandate is as an independent agency supposed to be free of political interference.
“Due to the particularly sensitive nature of the issue of the lifting of the confidentiality of communications, the criminal sanctions provided for by the existing legislative regime in the event of a violation of the relevant provisions both on the part of a member of ADAE and on the part of other persons […] are particularly serious, with a prescribed penalty, under certain conditions, even temporary imprisonment,” he said in the threat of prosecuting.
ADAE’S President Christos Rammos rejected the intervention and said that, “No body can exercise any form of preventive control or prudential supervision over the authority,” under the Constitution.
He challenged Dogiakos’ opinion and said that it “flagrantly violates the independence of the ADAE which emanates directly from the constitution,” the government is apparently trying to get around.
Major opposition SYRIZA leader and former premier Alexis Tsipras, already in campaign mode for a rematch with Mitsotakis, called it “a flagrant violation of the Constitution,” and was backed up by legal scholars.
Dogiakos said only a target of spying can request ADAE to look into their case, not a politician on behalf of others, as Tsipras did in requesting the authority to find out if there were more under surveillance, including the head of the Armed Forces.
“Mr. prosecutor, I am waiting for you to arrest me,” Tsipras said, while the government accused the SYRIZA leader of “continuing to steadily seek identity in the toxicity.”
Tspiras added: “No law and no opinion can invalidate the Constitution, and the mission of the ADAE defined there to control and ensure the privacy of communications,” to protect private citizens.
Xenofon Contiades, Professor and President of the Center for European Constitutional Law, told the site that the “legal community will strongly oppose the unthinkable interference of the prosecutor in the constitutionally and legislatively enshrined mission of ADAE.”
A European Union official official told EURACTIV that the European Commission, which is supposed to protect privacy, said that the issue “would be for national authorities to examine,” apparently trying to dodge it.
“Any attempts by national security services to illegally access data of citizens, including journalists and political opponents, if confirmed, is unacceptable,” the unnamed EU official said.