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Poland ‘hiding’ from spyware inquiry, EU lawmakers warn

The Polish government on Wednesday faced pressure from EU officials to come clean on how it used spyware for political purposes.

A delegation of members of the European Parliament met with officials of the Polish parliament — the Sejm — and other institutions this week. But the delegation got stonewalled by the government, who declined the committee’s invitations to meet.

The group of EU lawmakers said the government is “hiding behind national security provisions” in its defense of using the Pegasus spyware to surveil opponents in the lead-up to the 2019 election, the head of the delegation and Dutch center-right lawmaker Jeroen Lenaers told reporters at the end of the visit.

There is no realistic scenario in which “national security requires you to use highly invasive spyware such as Pegasus against opposition politicians, against prosecutors, against lawyers,” Lenaers said.

Poland is one of four countries, together with Hungary, Spain and Greece, where reports on the use of hacking software against political opposition figures, members of civil society and journalists have sparked political crises and investigations — in a series of scandals resembling the Watergate political-espionage scandal that rocked U.S. politics in the 1970s.

Poland’s leading politician Jarosław Kaczyński, who chairs the ruling Law and Justice (PiS), previously confirmed the government has the Pegasus hacking software, but the government has denied it had been used against opposition politicians in the 2019 parliamentary election campaign. 

Lenaers said the government’s move to decline meetings with his delegation was “a telling sign of the complete lack of importance this government attaches to checks and balances, to democratic scrutiny and to dialogue with elected representatives.”

The European Parliament is running an inquiry as part of its special committee investigating the use of the Israeli-made Pegasus software and similar hacking tools by European governments.

The chamber also wants the European Commission to step in, pressing EU member countries to ensure civil rights and implement privacy protections when using hacking tools as part of investigations and intelligence work.

Sophie in ‘t Veld, a Dutch Liberal lawmaker working on a Parliament report to impose stricter rules, said the European Commission needs “to let go of its ‘none of my business, see no evil, hear no evil’ attitude.”

In comments to a group of POLITICO reporters on Wednesday, European Justice Commissioner Didier Reyners defended the EU executive’s action. His services have “sent letters to four member states” asking for clarity on the reported allegations, he said. Poland, Hungary and Greece have responded to the Commission’s questions, while Reynders himself will visit Spain next week and said he would press the government for answers too.

“We are very open [about the fact that] we think about a possible piece of legislation, or action at the European level” to “be sure that there are real safeguards and protections,” Reynders said.

But, he added, “we need to be sure that we have the real competence to do this.”

Vincent Manancourt contributed reporting.

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