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25 Sep, 2023 14:30

EU states using ‘totalitarian methods’ to spy on journalists – MEP

An unknown agency reportedly used Israeli malware to surveil the editor of an EU-based Russian news site
EU states using ‘totalitarian methods’ to spy on journalists – MEP

EU governments are monitoring the communications of reporters with “no remedy and no oversight,” Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld told The Guardian on Monday. The lawmaker was responding to allegations that an EU state planted malware on the phone of a Russian journalist.

Galina Timchenko, a veteran editor who founded the Meduza news site, told The Guardian on Monday that her phone had been tapped with Israeli-developed Pegasus malware before she met with other Russian reporters in Berlin earlier this year. An investigation by the University of Toronto and Access Now concluded that an EU state was behind the hack.

Timchenko is based in Latvia, where the government has denied any involvement. German authorities refused to comment. Both countries have access to Pegasus software developed by Israeli company NSO. 

According to a report compiled by in ‘t Veld, the governments of Poland, Hungary, Greece, and Spain have all used Pegasus to monitor opponents.

“People have often said this whole spyware story compares to the European version of Watergate. It’s not. It’s more like ‘The Lives of Others’,” she said, referring to a German film depicting the pervasive surveillance of the East German Stasi.

“I’m not saying Europe is already descending into totalitarianism, but these are totalitarian methods,” she continued. “If it is true that the Latvian government or other European states did this, then there is no way to find out. There is no remedy, and no oversight.”

“[EU] governments are using it for political purposes, just like undemocratic ones do. In some very exceptional cases the use of spyware might be legitimate…the point is that we have no way of knowing if the use is proportionate and legitimate,” in ‘t Veld concluded.

Meduza editor-in-chief Ivan Kolpakov claimed it is “likely that the hack was operated by some European security service. We don’t know if it was Latvia or some other country, but we have more [presence] in Latvia.” 

Pegasus can be installed on a target’s phone with or without the user clicking a false link. Once installed, Pegasus grants the hacker the ability to read messages, look through photos, track the person’s location, and even switch on the camera and microphone without the knowledge of the phone’s owner. According to a list of NSO clients that leaked in 2021, more than 50,000 politicians, journalists, activists, and business figures were surveilled using the malware.