It is up to Fidesz members of the National Security Committee to decide whether Minister of the Interior Sándor Pintér can speak further on Hungary’s Pegasus spyware scandal. The Committee’s president, János Stummer (Jobbik), has scheduled a meeting for next Monday, despite Fidesz representatives saying that they will not be attending. The government does not consider the Pegasus scandal to be a relevant issue, but certain opposition representatives feel that it is of a magnitude worthy of requiring the Orbán administration to resign.
Many Hungarians want to know whether the government did in fact purchase and use Israeli spyware Pegasus to conduct illegal surveillance on journalists and politicians. The person who journalists have been directed to as the one responsible for passing such decisions is Interior Minister Sándor Pintér, who has stated that he would be willing to speak on the issue in a closed meeting of the Security Committee.
The Ball is in Fidesz’s Court for Pegasus Case
The meeting has been scheduled and Pintér has been invited, but in order for him to be questioned, Fidesz members of the Committee need to show up. Fidesz makes up the majority of the committee, despite the president being from the opposition. Since members from the governing party have stated that this “news spread in the left-wing media is unfounded,” it seems unlikely that they will attend.
Stummer told 444 that he believes the government’s communications around the issue have changed, that they are no longer denying allegations, but are passing the responsibility from one representative to another.
The heads of the Committee; Stummer, Zsolt Molnár (MSZP), and Péter Ungár (LMP), have written a letter to Fidesz representative and committee vice president János Halász, “not to obstruct the Minister of the Interior, so that the National Security Committee, [Fidesz members] included, may be informed on the investigation of the Hungarian secret services.”
Interior Minister Says the Issue Goes Beyond Hungary
On the subject of an investigation in the surveillance, Minister of the Interior Sándor Pintér responded to a written question by centrist green LMP representative Krisztina Hohn and Péter Ungár. The minister stated in his response that
Based on its currently available information, the Interior Ministry presumes that this is an internationally widespread scandal by an organization which was unknown until now. Hungary’s secret services are not the ones at the center of this issue.”
Pintér added that since May 29 of 2010, “the Hungarian national security services have not conducted illegal surveillance and continue not to do so.”
PMO Head Says Gov’t Will Not Provide Details of Legal Surveillance
In his weekly press conference on Thursday, Gergely Gulyás was asked whether the government had spoken about Hungary’s Pegasus scandal in its most recent meeting. He responded that it had not, since this issue “is about hysteria, fitting of the international circumstances Hungary has faced in the past few weeks.”
The Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office explained that the government would only look after the issue if it was claimed that an infringement of people’s rights had occurred.
In response to a repeated question from Telex on the procurement of the software, Gulyás repeated that this information is not openly available, and neither is it relevant. If the operation followed the rules of the national security law of 1995, then “everything is in order.”
Gulyás did not deny the use of Pegasus, explaining that the legal use of any such covert tools did not infringe on people’s rights. The illegality of the surveillance of the targeted individuals’ phones has not yet been proven.
Népszava asked the minister on what basis the government considered the use of Pegasus to be legal, to which he responded that
Our position is that every covert gathering of information happened in the frame of legality. (…) There is a law which regulates this, which needs to be followed.”
Gulyás confirmed Fidesz’s position that the issue is not worth a meeting of the National Security Committee. He also stated that the government will not provide details on covert intelligence gathering which happened in accordance with Hungary’s laws.
Opposition Momentum Calls for Gov’t to Step Down
Despite the government’s dismissal of the Pegasus scandal and argument that all of Hungary’s surveillance has happened on legal grounds, opposition politicians are calling for action.
Previously, the leader of the Everybody’s Hungary Movement, Péter Márki-Zay, called for Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to step down, relating the Pegasus issue to one the magnitude of Nixon’s Watergate scandal. Now Márki-Zay is joined by Momentum leader András Fekete-Győr and Momentum’s representative in the European Parliament Anna Donáth, who have also called for the Prime Minister to step down.
Fekete-Győr says that through the use of communist tools and with a revision of the former Soviet era of a surveillance state, Hungarian citizens are being watched. “Government members made confessions of guilt throughout the course of yesterday, starting with Sándor Pintér, [Foreign Minister] Péter Szijjártó, all the way to [Justice Minister] Judit Varga.”
Donáth said that the government had even been watching students, and both called for Orbán to resign.
Whether the government is confessing guilt is up for interpretation, but what is clear is that critics will not let this issue rest.
Featured photo illustration by Zoltán Balogh/MTI