EU lawmakers criticize lack of action to tackle spyware abuses

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The European Parliament adopted a resolution on Thursday criticizing the bloc’s executive for failing to bring forward any laws that would address spyware abuses.

By a vote of 424 in favor and 108 against, with 23 abstentions, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) called on the Commission to urgently introduce legislation on the matter.

The vote follows the publication of a parliamentary inquiry into spyware, officially known as The Committee of Inquiry to Investigate the Use of Pegasus and Equivalent Surveillance Spyware (PEGA).

Responding to the PEGA recommendations earlier this year, the Commission argued that it did not have the right to interfere with the responsibilities of EU member states on security matters.

At the time, Sophie In’t Veld, the PEGA rapporteur, argued that the Commission’s refusal to effectively step on the toes of member states’ national authorities was mistaken, because “the whole point is that the national authorities are guilty of abuse.”

MEPs are currently considering launching a second inquiry into spyware abuses next year. An association of civil liberties and human rights organizations have argued for such an inquiry to recommend that spyware be banned throughout the EU.

Despite its hesitance to interfere in member states’ sovereign security arrangements, the European Commission did propose legislation last September that would protect journalists from being targeted with spyware.

However the nature of those protections is being hotly contested by the European Council — the part of the bloc headed by each member states’ head of government.

Back in June, the European Council published its agreed negotiating position which sought to reduce the level of protections provided to journalists from government surveillance under the law.

Civil society groups complained that the practical effect of the amendments would be to remove the ability for the European Union’s Court of Justice to rule against member states if they were sued for hacking into a journalist’s phone.

The law is currently being negotiated between the Commission, Council and Parliament. Campaigners have complained that it has been “watered down” so much that it would not prove effective.

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Alexander Martin is the UK Editor for Recorded Future News. He was previously a technology reporter for Sky News and is also a fellow at the European Cyber Conflict Research Initiative.

 

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