Following a year-long inquiry into the abuse of spyware in the EU, the European Parliament today adopted Renew Europe MEP Sophie in 't Veld's report that uncovers the extent of EU governments' illegal espionage on citizens and puts forward first-of-its-kind recommendations to regulate eavesdropping via spyware at EU-level and hold governments responsible.
Sophie in 't Veld (D66, Netherlands), rapporteur for the report of the Committee of Inquiry to investigate the use of Pegasus and equivalent surveillance spyware (PEGA), said:
“If after today's vote the member state governments heave a sigh of relief, thinking they are off the hook, they are mistaken. Today does not mark the end of the process, but only the beginning. The truth has to come out, whatever it takes. We will continue to monitor and question, and give support to those who are still digging for the truth: journalists, researchers, oversight bodies, prosecutors, magistrates.
Abuse of spyware for political purposes is nothing less than a frontal attack on democracy. Some EU governments are already guilty of it, others may be tempted. The silence of the Commission and the Council makes them complicit. Not only have they been silent, but behind the scenes they are actually trying to legalise and extend the use of spyware. This has to stop. Commission and Council have to give a swift and full follow up to the recommendations of the Parliament.
How can we trust election results if the party in power has the tools to spy on, blackmail, intimidate and discredit its opponents and critics?”
To effectively stop the abuse of spyware already today while waiting for the implementation of the recommendations, MEPs call for allowing spyware only in EU states where allegations of abuse have been investigated and legislation is in line with the guidance of international judicial institutions.
Róża Thun und Hohenstein (Polska 2050, Poland), the Renew Europe Group's Coordinator in the PEGA committee, said:
“The work of PEGA Committee, which was created upon the request of Renew Europe, has been concluded after nearly 18 months of meticulous work, during which we held over 30 meetings, 6 country-missions and heard nearly 250 people. Throughout the process, Renew Europe have been determined to uncover the truth and put to the table proposals on how to stop governments from spying on their citizens for political purposes. The findings are crystal clear: several EU governments abused their powers and undermined democracy and the Rule of Law. Poland is not exempted. We urge the Polish government, all the other concerned governments, and the Commission to take immediate actions to protect citizens from becoming victims of illegal surveillance.”
The recommendations, which have a strong Renew Europe footprint, lay down common EU-wide legal conditions that Member States must fulfil before being allowed to use spyware, for instance, that authorisation should only be granted in exceptional cases for a pre-determined purpose and for a limited time. A common legal definition of the use of national security as a ground for surveillance is also requested to stop tries to justify misuses. Finally, at the Renew Europe group's initiative, the report calls for the creation of an EU Tech Lab, an independent research institute with the power to investigate and support member states.