Senate vs. “cybernetic weapon”: Pegasus is no longer allowed to be used in Poland
After 18 months of investigations, a special commission of the Polish Senate to investigate cases of illegal surveillance, its impact on the electoral process and the reform of the secret services decided and published its final report on Thursday. The senators therefore complain that national authorities used the Pegasus spying software developed by the Israeli NSO Group in Poland against people “against whom no case was pending for their involvement in the commission of a crime.” The victims of the surveillance were primarily people who were “critical” of the political line of the conservative ruling party PiS.
“Gross violation” of constitutional norms
According to the report, those spied on included Senator Krzysztof Brejza, prosecutor Ewa Wrzosek, lawyer Roman Giertych, some leading local politicians and the entrepreneur Andrzej Długosz. The use of spyware against all people heard by the commission “grossly” violates constitutional norms.
The body sharply criticizes the government. The purchase of Pegasus was illegal and violated national anti-corruption regulations and several other regulations related to public finances. According to Polish law, the monitoring program may not be used at all because it is not possible to check and certify the IT security requirements in connection with the protection of confidential information. The current legal situation in Poland also does not guarantee effective control of the secret services.
Based on its hearings from stakeholders and legal experts, the committee concluded that the 2019 general elections “were not fair and did not provide equal opportunities for their participants.” The government’s wiretapping practices were similar to “the actions of Russian hackers who attacked the United States and European countries during the election campaign.”
Possible criminal offenses by officials
The Commission has decided to inform the public prosecutor’s office about the possibility of committing crimes in the Pegasus scandal by public officials after purchasing and using the controversial software. She specifically names some former and current ministers. Prosecutors would have to check whether a criminal act was committed and who is responsible for it.
The senators are pushing for a law to be passed on the principles for carrying out operational and reconnaissance activities by the police and secret services and to strengthen the protection of fundamental rights. The security authorities would have to be more strictly controlled by an ombudsman, the courts, the government and parliament. The committee also calls for the transfer of criminal powers to the Supreme Court of Auditors and expanded powers for the Commissioner for Human Rights. He suggests improving cybersecurity in elections and their auditability. In addition, the functions of the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General should be separated.
A “cybernetic weapon” – opposition spied on
In particular, members of the opposition citizens’ coalition attacked the government and questioned the overall use of state trojans in a democracy. “Pegasus is not an operational tool of the security services, but a cybernetic weapon,” complained Senator Marcin Bosacki. So it’s about influencing other people’s behavior. The spyware was used “to an extremely aggressive extent” in Poland. Gabriela Morawska-Stanecka, deputy speaker of the Senate, castigated a “gross violation of constitutional standards.”
“Weapons used against terrorists must not be used against ordinary citizens,” emphasized Senator Magdalena Kochan. “The Watergate scandal that led to the downfall of President Nixon is nothing compared to the Pegasus scandal,” added her colleague Michał Kamiński. “What we have learned over the last year and a half thanks to the work of our committee must concern us as citizens.” The huge amounts of money that Poland spends on national security and defense are not used to hunt down Russian agents. Rather, the resources would be misused to spy on the views of the opposition.
The espionage activities in Poland and Hungary led to the EU Parliament convening a committee of inquiry. In their final report, the MPs there state that “there have been significant violations and shortcomings in the implementation of EU law in Poland”. For example, they demand that the member state “call on the Attorney General’s Office to initiate investigations into the misuse of spyware.” There is an urgent need to “restore sufficient institutional and legal guarantees”. This included independent oversight mechanisms.
For John Scott-Railton, a researcher at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto who has been scrutinizing the NSO Group for years, the Polish result also “raises questions about countries like Germany,” according to Techcrunch magazine. Other EU states apparently also continued to use Pegasus, Predator & Co. without realizing how harmful this was. This would further legitimize the NSO Group and other parts of the surveillance industry and provide them with income. The Israeli producer declined to comment.
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