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Politics

Greece’s EU Commissioner Wants Government Surveillance Limits

September 16, 2022

BRUSSELS – European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, from Greece’s ruling New Democracy that’s facing a spyware scandal, said there have to be restrictions on using phone taps and surveillance on politicians, journalists and businesses.

He said that spyware should be limited to legitimate law enforcement reasons although Greece’s National Intelligence Service (EYP) said it has bugged the phones of 15,745 people for national security without explaining why.

That includes PASOK Socialist leader Nikos Androulakis – also a Member of the European Parliament – and financial journalist Thanasis Koukakis, who also had Predator spyware put on his cell phone.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who can boot any party member deemed unloyal, said he didn’t know of the eavesdropping and wouldn’t have allowed it although saying while legal that it was wrong – for Androulakis.

“We need some order, we need a framework, we need judicial guarantees and we need an EU approach to end the malicious use of these products,” Schinas said, reported POLITICO.

He also said that it was unacceptable for governments to surveil citizens without reason although they can just cite it’s for national security without explaining who is being tracked or why.

While Greece’s scandal has set off a firestorm of criticism and led to a parliamentary committee probe by a panel dominated by government lawmakers keeping it secret, spyware use in the EU has spread.

Among those whose phones were hacked were French President Emmanuel Macron, Spanish Premier Pedro Sánchez and Defense Minister Margarita Robles, and EU staff members.

The European Parliament in response set up a PEGA spyware committee to look into the use of Pegasus spyware, made by the Israeli company NSO, and how extensive it is in the 27-member state bloc.

“We need some order, we need a framework, we need judicial guarantees and we need an EU approach to end the malicious use of these products,” Schinas said, reported POLITICO.

STATE OF SPYING

He also said that it was unacceptable for governments to surveil citizens without reason although they can just cite it’s for national security without explaining who is being tracked or why.

The European Parliament set up a PEGA spyware committee to look into the use of Pegasus spyware, made by the Israeli company NSO, and how extensive it is in the 27-member state bloc.

Schinas didn’t indicate how the EU could make member states rein in the use of spying tools as it has been reluctant to confront hard-line leaders who are stifling journalists – with a dozen states using spyware – the Pegasus committee found on a visit to Israel.

While Greece’s scandal has set off a firestorm of criticism and led to a parliamentary committee probe by a panel dominated by government lawmakers keeping it secret, spyware use in the EU has spread.

The use of spyware has precipitated political crises in Poland, Hungary, Greece and Spain but Schinas didn’t indicate why he seemed to be breaking with Mitsotakis, who is trying to put the scandal behind him.

The Greek cases have renewed attention on spyware that’s so prevalent that the European Commission was also a victim, with Commissioners Didier Reynders and a staffer for EU Vice-President Věra Jourová, leading an EU Media Freedom Act also targeted, said Reuters.

The Commission though has been unable to make any headway in reining in use of the spyware as countries claim it’s for national security and comes under the heading of their sovereignty.

The EU, noted POLITICO, has passed measures about how surveillance tools like data retention are used by national security authorities such as EYP, trying to find a balance with privacy.

“We do not have such a system for spyware. And this annoys me,” Schinas said, adding that while intelligence services have the right to “chase the bad guys,” they should follow the EU rule of law about data protection.

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