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Tag: Pegasus

Public Prosecutor: No Charges in Pegasus Spyware Investigation

The Budapest Investigative Prosecution Office has terminated its investigation into the so-called Pegasus case, as it failed to find that a criminal offense had taken place, wrote the Central Chief Investigative Prosecution Office in a statement. According to its findings, the government did not engage in any unauthorized collection of secret intelligence through the use of Pegasus.

Israeli-made Pegasus spyware was used by the government to conduct surveillance on journalists and opposition public figures, as stated in a complaint made to the Prosecutor General’s Office.

The prosecution wrote that it did not examine what type of software the authorities had used, but whether there were legal requirements for allowing the use of devices used to collect information covertly. By law, a judge or external authority must provide a warrant for any wiretap.

Classified documents were also examined during the investigation, but it was still determined that no unauthorized collection of secret information or unauthorized use of covert devices had taken place. The investigating office noted that wiretapping may also occur for reasons of national security.

Over the past year, several journalists have indicated that they were among those under surveillance by the Israeli spyware. In its defense, the Prosecutor General’s Office wrote that the targets of secret intelligence collection were not necessarily suspected of having committed a crime.

The National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (NAIH) also previously found that the surveillance activities met all legal criteria.

It is not known who signed the surveillance warrants, as the government has made this information confidential. However, suspicion has focused on Justice Minister Judit Varga or State Secretary for Justice Pál Völner, who later faced unrelated charges of bribery. [Telex]

Opposition Politicians Want to Question Justice Minister Varga in European Parliament Over Pegasus

Representatives from Hungary’s political opposition in the European Parliament have initiated the process to request that Justice Minister Judit Varga appear before the committee investigating the use of Pegasus surveillance software in EU Member States.

Momentum MEP and party President Anna Donáth said at a plenary session of the European Parliament on Wednesday that Varga should be questioned by the committee in a public hearing that would be broadcast live, as “politicians, civilians, and investigative journalists were surveilled and eavesdropped with her knowledge and permission.”

At the same time, Donáth will also have the committee request and examine wiretapping warrants, “as it very much seems that a significant number of them were not needed at all – they simply eavesdropped on their political opponents so they could stay in power.”

As the vice-chair of the Pegasus committee in the European Parliament, DK’s Sándor Rónai will likewise request a hearing for Judit Varga and her state secretary Pál Völner. [Magyar Hang]

DK Wants to Question Justice Minister Varga in European Parliament’s Pegasus Committee

The European Parliament’s select committee to investigate the use of Pegasus spyware will begin work next Tuesday, and it should become clear at the first session that “there will be consequences to the illegal surveillance and wiretapping of innocent civilians, journalists, businesspeople, and politicians,” according to MEP Sándor Rónai from DK, who has been chosen as vice-chair of the committee.

Rónai said that the committee would examine all abuses associated with the surveillance software over the next few months, adding that they planned to visit Hungary as soon as possible and personally glean information on the country’s involvement in the Pegasus scandal.

He hopes that the committee will question Justice Minister Judit Varga, whose deputy, Pál Völner, signed the warrants to permit the use of Pegasus on civilian targets. [Telex]

Rónai Chosen as Vice-Chair of Pegasus Committee in European Parliament

The European Parliament has set up a 38-member select committee to examine the use of Pegasus surveillance software in several EU countries, and whether such use violates EU law. DK’s Sándor Rónai will serve as the committee’s vice-chair, but Fidesz’s Balázs Hidvéghi is also on the body.

MEP Anna Donáth of Momentum announced that:

The Hungarian government was the first to acknowledge that it abused the spyware designed for anti-terrorism.

Donáth also stated that “the Hungarian government used it against any opponent of the regime,” adding:

The government has done everything it could to hush up the matter. Fidesz boycottted a session of the Committee on National Security, avoiding having to give answers to questions.

-said Donáth about the spyware created by the Israeli NSO Group. Donáth also said that the Pegasus affair was “not a Hungarian, but a European issue,” and it shouldn’t be dealt with in EU member states as an internal matter. [Index]

Donáth: European Parliament setting up select committee on Pegasus affair

picture of Anna Donáth

The European Parliament is setting up a select committee to investigate the Pegasus scandal, announced Anna Donáth (pictured) on Facebook. The Momentum MEP, together with two of her colleagues in the Brussels-based body, Róża Thun and Sophia in ‘t Veld, called for the formation of a panel that will question Viktor Orbán and hold responsible parties to account.

It is time for Europe to finally realize that we need to offer a defense for those who have been victimized, to defend the investigative journalists, students, lawyers, and opposition politicians who have had their private lives spied upon without justification.

-wrote Anna Donáth, adding that the Pegasus affair was about democracy.

On Twitter, the politician added that Pegasus will also be investigated domestically if the opposition wins Hungary’s April 3 parliamentary elections:

Investigative outlet Direkt36 exposed the scandal last summer, revealing that Pegasus spyware, developed by Israeli IT firm NSO Group, had been used to break into break into smartphones of Hungarian investigative journalists, politicians critical of the government, as well as wealthy media moguls and those around them. Among others, the phone number of the pilot keeping watch over Viktor Orbán’s flights was also found on the Pegasus list.

Data Protection Commissioner Attila Péterfalvi also launched an investigation into the matter, but determined that the software had been used legally by Hungarian authorities. Péterfalvi’s office investigated over a hundred specific cases to determine whether the use of Pegasus spyware was legal in Hungary, finding that every case was in order.

Only part of the Commissioner’s report on Pegasus is public. There is a continuously-expanding, confidential version of the report, which will be kept secret until December 31, 2050.

[Magyar Hang]

Fidesz MEP on Pegasus spy scandal: everything was legal, and Gyurcsány did it too

picture of Balázs Hidvéghi

“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.

[Népszava]

Pegasus spyware report: everything was legal, but details to be kept secret until 2050

picture of Attila Péterfalvi

The use of Pegasus spy software by Hungarian authorities was legal, according to the final report by Data Protection Commissioner Attila Péterfalvi (pictured) and reported by HVG on Monday.

Péterfalvi held a press conference on the matter, where he said that his office had investigated a hundred specific cases in total to determine whether the use of Pegasus spyware in Hungary was legal, and that the results showed that all cases were in order. However, only a portion of the Commissioner’s report is being made public, as there is another confidential version that will be remain secret until December 31, 2050.

He also pointed out that there were no problems regarding the issuing of the surveillance warrants, even though they were not signed by Justice Minister Judit Varga but by her former deputy, Pál Völner, who has since resigned over allegations of corruption against him.

HVG also reported that Péterfalvi was still not willing to answer key questions about the use of the software, such as which organization in Hungary paid for Pegasus, who used it and for how long, and whether it is still being used now.

However, Péterfalvi did say that although his office had asked Amnesty International six times for the list of telephone numbers which Direkt36 published its investigative articles on Pegasus last year, they still haven’t received it. He stated that he would be filing a report so that investigative bodies could determine whether any data abuses occurred when the information was leaked.

Népszava recently wrote that a hearing on the possible illegal use of Pegasus may be held in February by the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs (LIBE). Moreover, it is expected that a debate on the issue at a plenary session of the European Parliament will be held in the same month.

[Magyar Hang]

EU special committee on foreign intervention condemns Hungarian government for Pegasus and Fudan

picture of EU flags

A European Parliament committee has condemned the Hungarian government for the use of Pegasus spyware and for its plans to set up a campus of China’s Fudan University in Hungary, announced Momentum MEP Anna Donáth on social media. The EP’s special committee on foreign interference in all democratic processes in the EU, including disinformation (INGE) voted on Tuesday on the report condemning the government.

The newly-adopted report shows that the problem that we perceive every day in Hungarian public life has now risen to the European level: the Chinese and Russian governments are using the Hungarian government for their own geopolitical purposes and violating Hungary’s sovereignty.

-wrote the opposition politician.

She added that these Eastern dictatorships have used the Hungarian government to conduct disinformation campaigns, thereby destabilizing the region. Fudan University will likewise be another tool in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party, she stated.

Anna Donáth also recalled that she and her colleagues in the Renew Europe parliamentary group had called on the leaders of other parliamentary groups to support setting up a committee of inquiry on Pegasus, questioning Viktor Orbán in the European Parliament, and calling him to account for the use of the spyware. The Pegasus issue is about democracy, she believes.

The European Parliament plans to discuss the document in March.

[Magyar Hang]

Did the Pegasus spyware makers really break their contract with Hungary?

picture of man with smartphone

It was widely reported in the Hungarian press yesterday that Israeli-based NSO Group, the maker of Pegasus spyware, terminated its contract with the Hungarian government. This would mean it could no longer use the technology that was reportedly used against Hungarian domestic actors and blew up into a major scandal over the summer. But Telex now writes that the latest news may actually not be true.

The news of NSO’s breaking its contract with Hungary stemmed from Polish newspaper Wyborcza on Monday, which revealed that the Polish government may have obtained Pegasus itself.

The Wyborcza article touches upon Hungary in two areas. At one point, the authors write that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło, and then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu possibly agreed at a V4 meeting in Budapest that Hungary and Poland would be able to use Pegasus.

The other part in the article that concerned Hungary was derived from a Swiss newspaper, Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), published in German. The article in Wyborzcz mentions that the NSO had revoked its spyware license from Hungary and Poland in reference to the NZZ article.

But Telex notes that the article in NZZ refers to an article that appeared in CTech last November, which claimed that the Israeli Ministry of Defense had radically limited the number of countries with which Israeli cyber security companies could work with, but said nothing about existing contracts.

In other words, NSO did not decide on its own to limit its business activities, and moreover, it is not clear whether the decision also applies to existing contracts. So it is not certain that NSO actually terminated its contract with Hungary, although Telex appears doubtful due to standard penalties that would be applicable in such a case.

The news site points out that Népszava, who first reported the news in Hungary, and 444 both issued corrections yesterday when the news about the Swiss newspaper’s article came to light.

In response to an inquiry from Telex, the Ministry of the Interior did not confirm or deny the news.

Countries that provide the public with information about intelligence, counter-intelligence, and reconnaissance technologies that they may or may not be using reduces those very capabilities. The Ministry of the Interior is ready to answer such questions at a closed session of the National Security Committee in the National Assembly, as it has already done.

-the ministry answered in a written response.

The NSO Group also responded to Telex with a statement reading:

For contractual and national security reasons, the NSO Group does not deal with, confirm, or deny the identity of any of its customers.

Back in July, investigative outlet Direkt36 broke the news that spy software developed by the NSO Group was being used against opposition politicians, businessmen, journalists, and students, although it had been ostensibly developed for use against suspected terrorists, cybercriminals, and criminal organizations. The spyware was found on the devices of several journalists, civil activists, and economic actors critical of the government, but also on the phone of President János Áder’s bodyguard as well as a pilot for the Fidesz elite.

Although the government dodged the issue for months, Fidesz politician Lajos Kósa acknowledged to a journalist in November that the Hungarian government had acquired the spyware. Interior Minister Sándor Pintér, however, told a visiting delegation from the European Parliament to Budapest that the use of Pegasus spyware was completely within the law.

[Telex]

Biggest stories of the year in Hungarian politics (part 2)

picture of 2021

“2021 wasn’t a quiet year by any means for Hungarian domestic politics,” writes Azonnali, which highlights its choices for the nine biggest political stories of the year.

In this second of a three-part series, we’ll highlight three more of Azonnali’s picks for the top nine stories of the year in Hungarian politics.

You can find part one of this series here.

The government comes out against the LGBTQ community

After Gábor Kaleta, the former Hungarian ambassador to Peru, received a suspended prison sentence for pedophilia, Fidesz promised in 2020 to increase penalties for sexual offenses committed against minors.

The political opposition initially supported the child protection law, but right before the summer vote in Parliament on the issue, Fidesz made amendments to the law that referred not only to protecting children from pedophiles, but also from homosexuality and gender reassignment.

The law, passed on June 15, ultimately said it would severely punish pedophilia and the dissemination of pedophilic pornography, as well as ban the educational, civic, and media roles of the LGBTQ community, classifying them as propaganda and thus harmful for children.

When the law was finally voted on by the National Assembly, it won the approval of MPs from Jobbik and those formerly in that party, in addition to MPs from ruling parties Fidesz-KDNP. Sándor Székely, a representative of Tibor Szanyi’s newly-formed ISZOMM party, was the lone “no” vote, with the remainder of the opposition simply leaving the building.

Since the law was passed, the government has been working to keep the issue alive in the public discourse. Viktor Orbán announced in one of his Friday morning interviews on Kossuth Rádió that a national consultation and even a referendum on the matter would be held.

Although the opposition legally challenged the questions on Fidesz’s “child protection” referendum, the Curia High Court eventually approved four of them. The government plans to hold its referendum on the same day as Parliamentary elections next spring.

Pegasus – Hungary’s spyware scandal

On July 18, one of the biggest wiretapping scandals in history was revealed when more than 16 media outlets simultaneously published articles on the use of Pegasus spyware in several countries.

Data showed that Pegasus, created by the Israeli NSO Group, was used to monitor nearly 50,000 telephone numbers around the world, including journalists, opposition politicians, and NGO employees and activists.

Journalists at investigative outlet Direkt36 exposed the Hungarian ties, showing in several articles whose phones the Hungarian government was able to access with the help of the spyware. Even Szabolcs Panyi, the author of the Direkt36 article on the subject, was himself one of the targets of the Pegasus software.

The government initially denied purchasing the surveillance software, but Fidesz politician Lajos Kósa accidentally spilled the beans in early November and admitted that the government had employed its use.

Although the opposition held a protest on the issue and polls show that it has hurt the ruling Fidesz-KDNP coalition, no one has had to resign because of Pegasus, and the case has not had any serious consequences thus far. Although Parliament’s National Security Committee interrogated Interior Minister Sándor Pintér on the matter in a private session, the discussions will not be disclosed to the public until 2050.

Tensions with Norway

Over the summer, Hungary lost money from the Norwegian Fund after the deadline expired for the Hungarian and Norwegian governments to agree on the disbursement of grants from the fund.

Between 2014 and 2021, Hungary would have been eligible for Norwegian Fund grants worth €214.6 million (US $243.2 million). As Norway is not a member of the EU but a part of the EU common market, it provides grants to less affluent states.

However, the Norwegian and Hungarian governments could not agree on the organization that would distribute some 4 billion HUF ($12.3 million) in aid to eligible NGOs – the Norwegians insisted that a civil organization manage the funds, while the Hungarian government wanted a say in allocating it.

As the agreement between Norway and the European Union requires that civic actors be a part of aid distribution, the full amount was not disbursed, and the Hungarian government announced on August 4 that it would be taking legal action for the matter.

Since then, the two countries have not been able to reach an agreement, resulting in Hungary losing the aid. The Hungarian government eventually set up its own fund to replace the Norwegian Fund, but a subsequent investigation by news outlet Átlátszó found that Fidesz politicians had direct control over half of the NGOs who received money from it.

...to be continued…

[Azonnali][Photo by Theo Eilertsen Photography on Unsplash]

Interior Minister will only answer questions on Pegasus in closed session

picture of Sándor Pintér

Sándor Pintér (pictured) gave a detailed report on the annual work of the national security services at a meeting of Parliament’s National Security Committee on Thursday. According to the Minister of the Interior, the services perform their duties flawlessly and conduct their work professionally and efficiently.

Counter-espionage was busy last year, he said, the National Security Service took significant steps in the field of cyber defense, and the Counterterrorism Center prevented seven attacks in 2020, but it also took part in several international missions.

Regarding the security of Hungary’s electoral system, the Interior Minister said that elections are paper-based in Hungary, making IT attacks on the system impossible. Moreover, parties are also present when counting the votes.

Pintér therefore expects secure and democratic elections in Hungary. He called the election a celebration of democracy, and promised that police would be unarmed while performing their service next April.

The Minister of the Interior was also asked about László Kövér’s leaked speech to senior intelligence officials last year, in which the House Speaker had called the opposition a risk to national security. Pintér said intelligence services report semi-annually on national security risks, and so far no such information had emerged on the opposition or on any opposition MPs.

Ágnes Vadai, Member of Parliament from the Democratic Coalition, asked Minister Pintér several questions about the Pegasus spyware scandal. However, Pintér stated that as it concerned classified information, he would only be willing to respond to her questions in a closed session.

However, in order for Vadai to be able to attend the committee’s closed meeting, the board had to take a vote on it. After a lengthy debate, four Fidesz members of the committee voted it down, and three opposition MPs, including János Stummer, chairman of the committee, indicated that there was no point in holding a closed session and ended the proceedings.

[Telex]

With Völner taken down, opposition demands resignation of Judit Varga

picture of Pál Völner

Following the sudden resignation of Fidesz Member of Parliament Pál Völner (pictured) yesterday from his position as State Secretary, Hungary’s opposition is also calling for Justice Minister Judit Varga to resign in what they call “the most serious corruption scandal in the Orbán government.”

Early on Tuesday, Prosecutor General Péter Polt submitted a request to suspend the Parliamentary immunity of Pál Völner, stemming from an ongoing investigation into bribery payments Völner allegedly accepted from the Hungarian Chamber of Judicial Officers. Following this, Völner resigned as State Secretary later in the day.

Anna Donáth, president of opposition party Momentum, referred to Völner’s role in the Pegasus spyware scandal, and called on Justice Minister Judit Varga herself to resign for empowering her state secretary to make decisions on who to spy on.

Not only is the minister unable to perform her duties by letting someone else authorize the wiretaps, but she can’t even supervise her own subordinates in the ministry. She needs to resign immediately

-stated Anna Donáth.

Jobbik released a statement saying that it was particularly infuriating that Völner had received bribe money from judicial executors, whose actions have brought tens of thousands of families to the streets in more than a decade of Fidesz rule.

The opposition party claims that Minister Varga and State Secretary Völner together “surveilled and wiretapped independent journalists, businesspeople, and opposition politicians,” and that Varga should follow her deputy’s lead and step down from her position.

Opposition prime ministerial candidate Péter Márki-Zay also weighed in with his opinion on the matter, commenting on social media:

What has Viktor Orbán done to this country? The Ministry of Justice directs corruption in this government, and the threads lead back to the leader who made decisions on the Pegasus spyware. So in Hungary, it’s not the state that surveils criminals by secret means, but rather a criminal who does the surveilling of honest citizens, journalists, and companies.

In addition, opposition politicians at a press conference hosted by the members of Dialogue, Everybody’s Hungary Movement, Democratic Coalition, LMP, and the Hungarian Socialist Party not only called on the immediate resignation of Justice Minister Judit Varga, but for Pál Völner to resign his mandate in Parliament as well.

According to the Central Investigative Prosecutor’s Office, there is a well-founded reason to believe that Völner received occasional payments of 2–5 million Ft. (US $6,200-$15,400) from the President of the Hungarian Judicial Enforcement Office for several years in exchange for taking on specific cases at the President’s request. The case has twelve suspects, including eight executors in the enforcement office.

[Telex]

Pintér admits the use of Pegasus surveillance software, but says it was legal

picture of Sándor Pintér

The situation of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in Hungary is troubling, says the European Parliament’s fact-finding delegation, as reported yesterday. The delegation gave an account of their results Monday afternoon at the Parliamentary Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE).

The group’s report revealed that the Minister of the Interior, Sándor Pintér (pictured), acknowledged to visiting MEPs that his ministry had employed Pegasus spyware. But he also said that all uses of the software complied with Hungarian law.

“All applications of the software were in accordance with Hungarian law. No Member of Parliament was surveilled.”

-writes the delegation in its report.

Sándor Pintér also told them that other Member States had used software similar to Pegasus, but only Hungary has been attacked for it.

In early November, after a closed meeting of the National Security Committee, Fidesz politician Lajos Kósa admitted that the Ministry of the Interior had purchased Pegasus surveillance software. However, the Budapest Regional Investigation Prosecutor’s Office recently decided that the software had not actually been officially purchased by the Ministry of the Interior.

Investigative news outlet Direkt36 revealed over the summer that the government had purchased surveillance software developed by the Israeli NSO Group for ostensible use against terrorists, but that it was being used in Hungary against journalists, businessmen, opposition politicians, and students.

[Telex]

United opposition calls on László Kövér to resign for leaked comments

picture of László Kövér

Hungary’s political opposition unanimously called on László Kövér (pictured) to resign after it was revealed that the Parliamentary Speaker had said to senior intelligence officers at a closed event last year that the opposition posed the greatest threat to national security, and that he expected them to deal with it.

It is shocking and unacceptable that the Speaker of the National Assembly and Fidesz urges the leaders of the national security services to violate the rule of law and their constitutional duty by identifying the opposition as the most serious threat to national security, expecting it to be ‘eliminated.’ Kövér’s words may also be indirect evidence of Pegasus-gate’s use of Israeli spyware, which was purchased by the Hungarian state ostensibly to prevent terrorism and crime, but used to monitor opposition figures such as politicians, journalists, media owners, civilians, and activists. Let’s be clear: with this speech, László Kövér is also inciting action against millions of Hungarian citizens who are opposed to the Orbán regime.

-read the joint statement issued from the DK, MSZP, Dialogue, LMP, MMM, and Jobbik parties.

They also claim that based on the facts of “Pegasus-gate,” the dirtiest Hungarian scandal in the last 30 years, Viktor Orbán and his government are unworthy of representing the citizens of Hungary, just as László Kövér has no place in Hungarian public life.

Investigative news outlet Direkt36 revealed early Saturday that Kövér had delivered the speech in question on February 28, 2020 at the headquarters of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, at a ceremony to mark the 30th anniversary of the National Security Services.

Referring to Fidesz, Kövér told the participants last year that “part of the Hungarian political class thinks in a self-governing state and a self-aware nation, which believes in it and works for it.” He then went on to say that “the other side of politics acts in the spirit of the political tradition of a self-resigning state and self-torturing nation.”

“I consider this political situation to be the most dangerous threat to national security that threatens Hungary today,”

-Kövér then stated.

Direkt36 noted that it is not uncommon for Kövér to harshly criticize the opposition, but what makes these leaked comments different is, as a high-level government authority and one of the ruling party’s most influential politicians, formulating his thoughts into guidance for civilian national security leaders.

However, the Speaker of the Assembly did not give any details on what specific actions he expected from the services.

[444]

Data protection head not sure when Pegasus investigation will be finished

Attila Péterfalvi

The data protection authority’s investigation into the Pegasus surveillance scandal, which has gone through new twists and turns in recent days, seems to have run into a few roadblocks, reports HVG, and the head of the authority does even not know when it will wrap up.

Three months ago, the National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (NAIH), headed by Attila Péterfalvi, began an investigation into the circumstances and legality of the use of the Pegasus spyware program in Hungary.

A month and a half after the launch of NAIH’s investigation, in the second half of September, the news outlet asked Péterfalvi when its report would be ready. The head of the authority said at that time that the investigation would be completed around the beginning of November.

After another month and a half, on November 2, HVG contacted Attila Péterfalvi again to inquire about the status of the investigation, but he said it could take another 1-2 weeks for them to complete it.

A week after that, HVG reporters asked Péterfalvi once more about the status of the case, but now he only says that the investigation is ongoing, and “at the moment I don’t even when it will end.”

The NAIH investigation began a few weeks after Direkt36 published an investigative report on Pegasus which claimed that the surveillance software was used by Hungarian state actors to spy on civilians through their electronic devices.

Meanwhile, important details on the case have emerged in recent days after Lajos Kósa, the Fidesz chairman of the National Defense and Law Enforcement Committee of the Parliament, admitted that the Hungarian state had purchased the product of the Israeli NSO company through the Ministry of the Interior.

[HVG]

Stummer writes NSO Group for answers on Pegasus

picture of János Stummer

As he promised over the weekend, Chair of the National Security Committee János Stummer has written a letter to the Israeli manufacturer of Pegasus surveillance software, which was reportedly used by the government on business leaders, politicians, lawyers, and journalists.

In a letter sent in English and Hungarian, the Jobbik politician wanted to clarify some questions about the Hungarian use of the software. He also indicated that he would initiate proceedings to declassify the government’s contract with Pegasus, and make an official request, for the third time, that an inquiry commission be set up on the matter.

“I have sent a letter to the directors of the Israeli NSO Group informing us of what the Hungarian government is unwilling to talk about: who was surveilled, when, under what authority, and over what period of time?” the opposition MP wrote in a Facebook post on Monday afternoon as related by Népszava.

Stummer said in an interview on Sunday that the Pegasus spy software had been used by the government on over 100 Hungarians, and also that he had seen the framework contract for the sale but not the terms of any appendices. The recent uproar over the issue was sparked by Fidesz politician Lajos Kósa admitting to the media that on Thursday that the government had employed use of the software.

[Index, Népszava]

Stummer: government has used Pegasus on over 100 people

picture of János Stummer

The government has spied on over 100 people with the Pegasus surveillance software, according to Jobbik’s János Stummer, Chair of the National Security Committee in Parliament.

After the spy scandal broke into the public consciousness over the summer by the Direkt36 investigative reporting outfit, the government has been very tight-lipped about the subject. However, that changed on Thursday when Fidesz politician Lajos Kósa admitted to RTL Híradó that the Interior Ministry had purchased and used the software.

Speaking to the Partizán show on Sunday evening, Stummer told host Márton Gulyás that he thought Kósa’s admission had been a mistake. The Jobbik politician also stated that by mid-October he had already seen a framework contract showing that the state had indeed bought Pegasus.

The Jobbik politician reiterated that they are pushing for a fact-finding inquiry, because “until there is a change of government, this regime will not provide any meaningful answers [on the subject].” He also foresees a scenario in which “the Hungarian public will be able to learn more about it.”

Stummer also claimed that he would be contacting NSO, the Israeli manufacturer of Pegasus, on Monday.

[Magyar Hang]

Pegasus manufacturer may break its contract with Hungary after Kósa’s admission

picture of Lajos Kósa

After Fidesz politician Lajos Kósa’s explosive admission that the Hungarian government had used Pegasus to spy on prominent Hungarians, the manufacturer of the surveillance software proposed terminating the contract if it determined that the product’s terms of use had been abused.

Kósa, chair of Parliament’s Defense and Law Enforcement Committee, admitted this week that the Hungarian government had purchased the product from Israeli firm NSO through the Ministry of the Interior, but would not reveal why or whom against it was used.

As investigative journalists with Direkt36 uncovered this summer, Hungarian state agencies used Pegasus not only for its stated purpose, fighting terrorists and organized crime, but also for surveilling opposition politicians, journalists, lawyers and businessmen. Moreover, even economic titans connected to ruling party Fidesz were also found with the software on their devices.

After Kósa’s admission, news site 24.hu asked the Pegasus manufacturer whether there would be any consequences for the Hungarian government’s use of the software to monitor civilians.

The company responded in a statement “While we cannot refer to individual users under the terms of the contract and due to security provisions, we can ensure that NSO does not tolerate any misuse of its products. If such abuse is found, the company has appropriate sanctions in place, including termination of the contract.”

Meanwhile, Hungary’s political opposition continues to focus on the issue. The Democratic Coalition said on Saturday that it was still an open question exactly which agency had purchased Pegasus and what exactly was in the contract, and so has asked for official access to the documents.

[HVG]

Lajos Kósa admits that the government used Pegasus spy software for surveillance

picture of Lajos Kósa

Lajos Kósa, Chair of the Defense and Law Enforcement Committee, confessed to journalists following a hearing with Interior Minister Sándor Pintér that the Ministry of the Interior (BM) had purchased the Israeli Pegasus spyware, writes ATV.

“Was the Pegasus software obtained by the Department of the Interior?” asked a reporter from RTL Híradó, to which Kósa answered affirmatively.

According to Kósa, there is nothing objectionable about the purchase, as everything was lawful and the necessary permits were received from a judge and the Minister of Justice. He said members of the opposition-led National Security Committee had all had access to the documents.

Kósa also noted that large tech companies observe citizens much more widely than the state.

Following Kósa’s comments, the Ministry of the Interior wrote to Telex, “the Ministry has never commented on or qualified the statements made by members of parliament after committee meetings.”

“The Ministry of the Interior has stated, on many occasions, that Hungary’s democratic rule of law, national security and law enforcement services have not carried out illegal surveillance since 29 May 2010, and will not do in the future either,” said the Ministry’s statement.

In July, a series of fact-finding articles were published by Direkt36 together with a group of international journalists that Israeli NSO spyware Pegasus was used to monitor more than 50 countries, including Hungary. Targets included journalists and human rights defenders, but it was also revealed that Emmanuel Macron was also spied upon with the software.

[Telex]

Direkt36: new target revealed in Pegasus spy software case

Investigative news outlet Direkt36 has revealed that the telephone number of an officer of the National Security Service (NBSZ) has also appeared in the list of targets in the Pegasus spy software affair. The number allegedly belongs to a staff member in NBSZ’s technical area who deals with spy software, among other related issues.

It’s not clear why this person’s telephone appears on the list of Pegasus targets, according to Direkt36, which speculates that the people who installed the software may have wanted to observe that person, or that they were a technical participant in the operation. But the investigative outlet says that in either case, it strengthens the belief that the Hungarian government was behind the use of the spy software in Hungary. Neither the government nor NBSZ responded to a request from Direkt36 for a comment on the matter.

Direkt36 revealed in July that the Israeli-made software Pegasus was being used on personal devices to spy on Hungarian journalists, media personalities, lawyers, opposition politicians, and government officials. [via Telex]