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Hungary’s Surveillance Scandal Generates International Backlash

Péter Cseresnyés 2021.07.20.

An international backlash against Hungary grows due to the recent surveillance scandal known as the “Pegasus Project,” according to which some governments, including that of Viktor Orbán, have allegedly employed Israeli NSO’s powerful spyware “Pegasus” to monitor the activity of their political opponents, independent journalists, and NGO activists. According to EC President Ursula Von Der Leyen, if true, the spyware being used on journalists goes against EU values, while the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warns if the recent allegations prove to be true then “a red line has been crossed.”

“What we could read so far, and this has to be verified, but if it is the case, it is completely unacceptable. Against any kind of rules we have in the European Union,” von der Leyen said in reaction to Hungary’s recent surveillance scandal during a visit to Prague.

The words of the Commission President’s comes after an investigation by an international group of journalists came to the conclusion that multiple national governments including Hungary’s, are actively using Israeli NSO’s spyware called “Pegasus” to target political opponents, primarily journalists, politicians, and businessmen.

Orbán Gov't Accused of Using 'Pegasus' Spyware Against Political Opponents, Journalists
Orbán Gov't Accused of Using 'Pegasus' Spyware Against Political Opponents, Journalists

"Hungary is a democratic state governed by the rule of law, and as such, when it comes to any individual it has always acted and continues to act in accordance with the law in force," the government said.Continue reading

“Freedom of media, free press is one of the core values of the EU. It is completely unacceptable if this [hacking] were to be the case,” von der Leyen added.

According to Hvg.hu, the spokesperson of the European Commission later also commented on the issue at the press conference, saying that the Commission does not plan to launch an investigation into the matter because national security is a national competence.

Ursula von der Leyen wasn’t the only one, however, who condemned the alleged use of spyware to surveil journalists and other civilians.

UN High Commissioner: Reports on the widespread use of Pegasus ‘alarming’

Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, also expressed her deep concern about the reports on the illegal use of the Pegasus spyware.

“Revelations regarding the apparent widespread use of the Pegasus software to spy on journalists, human rights defenders, politicians, and others in a variety of countries are extremely alarming, and seem to confirm some of the worst fears about the potential misuse of surveillance technology to illegally undermine people’s human rights,” Bachelet said in a statement.

Opposition Parties Call for Transparency on Orbán Govt's Alleged Pegasus Scandal
Opposition Parties Call for Transparency on Orbán Govt's Alleged Pegasus Scandal

The opposition is ready to take "the Hungarian Watergate" to the National Security Committee, but Fidesz stands by its innocence and says the meeting would be unjustified.Continue reading

According to the High Commissioner, the use of such software can only ever be justified in the context of investigations into serious crimes and grave security threats, and is disproportionate in other cases. “If the recent allegations about the use of Pegasus are even partly true, then that red line has been crossed again and again with total impunity,” she said.

Liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt,  known for his harsh opinions, also lambasted Hungary, claiming that a dictatorship is growing in the EU.

“No more ‘deeply concerned’…. the EU has a dictatorship growing inside of it. We need a full inquiry by the European Parliament!”, the politician wrote in a tweet on Monday.

Featured photo by Stephanie Lecocq/EPA/MTI