“If an independent journalist poses a threat to Hungary’s national security, that reveals a lot about the power of the government,” said German Liberal MEP Moritz Körner at a hearing in the European Parliament’s (EP) Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) on Tuesday. Guests were invited to share their views with the committee about the Pegasus wiretapping scandal and its consequences.
One of LIBE’s invited guest was Szabolcs Panyi, a journalist for investigative outlet Direkt36, who uncovered the use of Pegasus in Hungary and was also found to have the Israeli spyware installed on his devices.
Panyi told the committee that it was absurd that the Hungarian data protection authority not only did not find anything wrong with the use of Pegasus, but it also filed a criminal complaint against those involved in the uncovering the illegal wiretapping scheme. In effect, the agency claims that those it surveilled with Pegasus posed a national security threat.
Panyi claims that the surveillance scandal could have a “chilling effect” on journalists’ confidential sources and whistleblowers who uncover illegal activity, who will now have to rethink whether they should go public with their revelations.
As Pegasus also targeted lawyers in Hungary, the situation is similar for those seeking legal advice or assistance who can never be certain that their conversations with a lawyer are not being overheard. Panyi said that there were already signs that the government plans to use information it picked up from wiretapped phones in the upcoming election campaign.
Other speakers, including MEPs and Polish prosecutor and fellow Pegasus victim Ewa Wrzosek, urged the EU to take action on the issue. One proposed idea in this regard is to ban the import and export of technology to countries where democratic standards are not respected. The EP’s Liberal Group has been urging a parliamentary committee of inquiry for some time now, and speakers at the session indicated growing support for the proposal.
Hungary’s Balázs Hidvéghi (pictured), however, offered a separate opinion on the subject. Hidvéghi claimed that everything regarding Pegasus in Hungary was in accordance with the law, and he advised that the members of the commission investigate surveillance conducted by the former government of Ferenc Gyurcsány, who he called their “comrade.”
Moritz Körner responded to this statement by asking the Fidesz MEP:
If you’re so much better than the previous government, why don’t you act better than them?
Szabolcs Panyi then suggested Hidvéghi to ask his “comrade,” Pál Völner, who was forced to resign as state secretary after accepting bribes and personally signing off on illegal eavesdropping warrents, whether anyone had put and external pressure on him before he chose to use Pegasus on civil targets.