For some time now Poland has been drifting away from the values held by the EU, most notably the recent spat over the move by politicians in the country to limit the power of the courts. No with the most powerful politician in the country admitting that Poland bought Israeli spyware will do little silence the critics.
The spyware sold by Israeli surveillance software maker NSO Group was acquired by the country to combat crime and corruption with growing use of encrypted data online. At the same time Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Poland’s ruling conservative party, Law and Justice, denied that it was being used to target his political opponents.
According to Kaczynski, the spyware replaces obsolete monitoring technologies that cannot deal with encryption, whereas the new technology allows phones to be monitored irrespective of whether they are encrypted or not.
Justifying the purchase in an interview with Sieci Kaczynski said: “It would be bad if the Polish services did not have this type of tool.”
The interview followed exclusive reports by The Associated Press that Citizen Lab, a cyber-watchdog group at the University of Toronto, found that three Polish government critics were hacked using the spyware. The information has since been independently verified by Amnesty International confirming that Sen. Krzysztof Brejza was hacked multiple times in 2019 when he was running the opposition’s parliamentary election campaign.
The information was used in a smear campaign on TV narrowly handing the election to the populist ruling party.
The hacking revelations have rocked Poland with many calling for an investigative commission in parliament, however Kaczynski said he saw no reason to set up such a commission. He denies any role in the surveillance that affected the outcome of the 2019 election.
“There is nothing here, no fact, except the hysteria of the opposition. There is no Pegasus case, no surveillance,” Kaczynski said. “No Pegasus, no services, no secretly obtained information played any role in the 2019 election campaign. They lost because they lost. They shouldn’t look for such excuses today.”
The other two Polish targets confirmed by Citizen Lab were Roman Giertych, a lawyer who represents opposition politicians in a number of politically sensitive cases, and Ewa Wrzosek, an independent-minded prosecutor.
State security spokesman Stanislaw Zaryn would neither confirm nor deny the hackings, with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki calling the Citizen Lab-AP findings “fake news”. He has gone on to suggest a foreign intelligence service could have done the spying, an idea dismissed by critics who said no other government would have any interest in the three Polish targets.
According to Deputy Defense Minister Wojciech Skurkiewicz: “the Pegasus system is not in the possession of the Polish services. It is not used to track or surveil anyone in our country.”
Investigations by broadcaster TVN and daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, show that the software is used by the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau, a special service created to combat corruption in public life that is under the political control of the ruling party.
Dozens of high-profile cases of Pegasus abuse have been uncovered since 2015, many by a global media consortium last year, showing the NSO Group malware was employed to eavesdrop on journalists, politicians, diplomats, lawyers and human rights activists from the Middle East to Mexico.
Many countries have bought the powerful Israeli spyware, however as Poland is a member of the EU the use of the software is frowned upon.
Amnesty International’s Poland director, Anna Błaszczak, said“These findings are shocking but not surprising. They raise serious concerns not only for politicians, but for the whole Poland’s civil society in general, particularly given the context of the government’s record of persistently subverting human rights and the rule of law.”
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