ATHENS – Critics in the New Democracy government have labeled him a political meddler and near-treasonous but Christos Rammos, head of the country’s privacy agency, said he won’t stop looking into surveillance.
Rammos is chief of the Hellenic Authority for Communication Security and Privacy (ADAE) that has conducted audits of phone bugging after the National Intelligence Service EYP admitting monitoring 15,475 people.
That had included Nikos Androulakis, a Member of the European Parliament who head’s Greece’s third-biggest political party PASOK-KINAL and has turned it into an influence ahead of elections coming by summer.
Before the train tragedy that took 57 lives overtook all other news, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was constantly fending off complaints from rivals that he was running a spy state and that someone – now hi government he said – was using Predator spyware too.
That created a scandal into which the major opposition SYRIZA jumped to take advantage to criticize Mitsotakis and his government and ask Rammos to investigate whose phones were being tapped.
While Mitsotakis said they won’t be revealed in the interest of “national security” and threw a cloak over any attempt to find out more – including threats to prosecute whistleblowers or journalists – Rammos has been undeterred.
His agency is independent of the government and supposed to be non-partisan and that’s the role he has taken on, he told POLITICO in an interview about why has proceeded to investigate in the facing of withering opposition.
“I am presented as a tool of the opposition in the worst case, or else as a strange Don Quixote, an obsessed man who is out to become the savior of democracy,” Rammos told the news site.
He is a 72-year-old former judge who wears glasses and has a pet cat, the site said, detailing his refusal to back down in the face of pressure, including from Development Minister Adonis Georgiadis, a known firebrand, who said that,
“Rammos has touched the boundaries of treason and not just the legal order.”
The attacks picked up after a phone company audit the government tried to block from happening and New Democracy administration spokesman Giannis Giannis Oikonomou said that what Rammos was doing was “a serious blunder, institutional and political,” adding that he “obviously aspires to become a political actor in a sensitive period.”
“From an unknown authority, ADAE unwittingly became a protagonist,” Rammos said, adding that the lumbering Greek courts that can take a decade to hear cases is holding back further investigation by his agency.
WON’T BACK DOWN
Among the discoveries, news report said, is some of Mitsotakis’ ministers and the head of the Armed Forces had their phones tapped but he didn’t say why or if that was for “national security” either.
His supporters laud Rammos for not going along with the usual silence that surrounds any attempt to reveal what governments are doing and that he’s tilting at windmills indeed, in a hurricane, but refusing to bend.
He’s been backed by reports from investigative journalists – one of whom had his phone tapped and Predator spyware installed – and a number of media reports further uncovering surveillance were produced.
Mitsotakis ascribed any wrongdoings to “foul networks” in EYP – which is supposed to report directly to him but didn’t in the case of the phone bugging scandal before he replaced its head and his own nephew, who was his advisor.
The report said that Rammos is systematically uncovering how the state spies on citizens, which Mitsotakis said is legal and necessary without saying why in the case of journalists, government ministers, military leaders or others surveilled.
Rammos said he’s just doing his job and won’t be meddled with because the agency is outside government control.
“In Greece there is a tendency to suspect that everything in public life is done in a partisan way, that there is a hidden political or personal agenda behind every decision. The possibility of being a proper and honest professional is not accredited,” he said.
He told the site that, “Nothing could be further away from my personality, mindset and aspirations than a political career,” and he rejected calls by pro-government media sites for him to step aside.
“I never thought of resigning. Not for a moment. No one can dictate that to me,” he said, adding that his term ends on May 2025. “When you have to deal with slander, lies and hatred, it might occur for a moment that you wish you would better like to get rid of all of it. But for me, duty prevails.”
But he said threats of legal action against ADAE were ominous and that, “Where there is fear there is no democracy. Democracies need a calm environment and respect (for) the personalities [conscientiously doing] their job, even if we disagree with them,” he said.
“We are dealing with an ongoing crisis in the domain of the confidentiality of communications,” he said. “It’s usual for democracy to have crises and it has the means (to) overcome them, but this needs constant vigilance and sometimes courage too.”