Despite critics wanting to clear the air around Hungary’s Pegasus surveillance case as soon as possible, the government comes off as both willing and unwilling to cooperate on the issue. Justice Minister Judit Varga emphasized Hungary’s adherence to the National Security Committee, and Minister of the Interior Sándor Pintér said he is willing to speak at a closed meeting of the Committee. But when the head of the Committee called for a meeting over the issue, Fidesz effectively boycotted the would-be investigation with an announcement that members would not be showing up on the basis that the topic is “unjustified” and founded on the bias of left-wing media.
Access to a better understanding of Hungary’s Pegasus scandal seems to have hit a roadblock. Despite government official’s voicing their willingness to address the issue, Hungary’s governing Fidesz party is stopping regulation mechanisms from operating to resolve a human rights issue.
Hungarians Want to Know Whether Big Brother Is Watching
Hungary is on a list of countries using a highly advanced surveillance software to wiretap the phones of Hungarian citizens. The Pegasus project, a collaborative investigation run by 17 news outlets, found that 300 Hungarian phone numbers had been targeted with surveillance attacks.
The software, known as Pegasus, can break into any phone running on Android or iOS operating systems. It provides the attacker with complete access and does not require the involvement of the target. Photos, videos, search history, messages, and more can be accessed, alongside the ability of the attacker to remotely record phone calls and turn on both the phone’s camera and microphone.
The trail leads directly to the Hungarian state, because the software’s manufacturer, Israeli private corporation NSO Group, can only provide its product to national governments and government agencies with the permission of the Israeli Ministry of Defense. Despite the software being intended for use on suspected terrorists and criminals, the Pegasus project uncovered that many clients have been targeting journalists, opposition politicians, activists, and businessmen.
Justice Minister Says Covert Tools Are Used Legally
When asked about the Pegasus scandal, Justice Minister Judit Varga told Hungarian journalists in Brussels that Hungary is a nation with law and order. She said that like every respectable state, “it has technical means at its disposal in the 21st century with which it can oversee its tasks of national security.”
When leftist daily Népszava asked whether her department had given permission to tap the phones of journalists or other Hungarians, Varga said that
The operation of the secret services is a professional task in Hungary, which is completely independent from politics, and these decisions are never based on party views nor occupation, but rather on the basis of the given pursuit.”
The minister added that based on the rule of law, when making decisions regarding the permission of surveillance, the issue needs to be measured in terms of its threat to Hungarian sovereignty or the suspicion of foreign intelligence gathering.
Varga believes it is the interest of every country to adequately prepare for the many dangers faced in the world.
It would be a serious problem if we did not have these tools, however the use of these happens in a legally ordered manner.”
Varga also stated that in these matters the government operates under the oversight of the National Assembly’s National Security Committee with biannual reviews.
Interior Minister Prepared to Speak to Security Council
Minister of the Interior Sándor Pintér has stated that Hungary’s national security agencies have not conducted any illegal surveillance, and that the use of covert devices is authorized and overseen by both governmental and bipartisan institutions.
In response to a question by independent Parliamentary representative Bernadett Szél, Minister of the Interior Sándor Pintér said he would be happy to speak on the issue at a closed meeting of the National Security Committee. The only problem is that Fidesz has chosen not to allow that meeting to happen.
Security Council Investigation Boycotted
On Monday, János Stummer, the president of the National Security Committee and representative of the right wing Jobbik party, called for an immediate meeting of the Committee to hear out the accused Fidesz politicians.
János Halász, however, had other plans. Following Stummer’s statement, the Fidesz vice president of the Committee announced that a meeting on the Pegasus issue would be “unjustified,” since “the news spread in the left-wing media is unfounded and purely serving to cause political uproar.”
Hvg points out that the announcement came right when Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó had said that an investigation by the Committee is the legal method of resolving the issue.
In the featured photo: Justice Minister Judit Varga. Photo by Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI