BRUSSELS -- The European Parliament's inquiry committee investigating the use of surveillance spyware by the bloc's governments said Tuesday the EU's executive arm and member countries are failing to properly tackle a surveillance scandal that has targeted opposition politicians and journalists.
In a draft report published Tuesday, the committee investigating Pegasus said the European Council and national governments "are practicing omertà" — or a code of silence — and regretted that the European Commission only shared “reluctantly and piecemeal" information concerning spyware attacks on its own employees.
A spokesman for the Commission responded that any attempt from national security services to illegally access data of citizens “is unacceptable" and insisted it has already started taking action to protect journalists from the use of spyware.
The Parliament committee has been investigating the use by governments of Israel’s Pegasus spyware and other invasive surveillance tools, viewing such technology as a threat to democracy in the 27-nation bloc.
Pegasus was developed by Israel’s NSO Group and is designed to breach mobile phones and extract vast amounts of information from them, including text messages, passwords, locations and microphone and camera recordings.
The company markets the technology as a tool to target criminals, but many cases have been discovered worldwide of governments using it against dissidents, journalists and political opponents.
According to EU lawmakers, the NSO Group has sold its products in at least 14 EU countries.
“In at least four member states, Poland, Hungary, Greece, and Spain, there has been illegitimate use of spyware, and there are suspicions about its use in Cyprus," they said, adding that Cyprus and Bulgaria serve as the export hub for spyware.
“Member State governments have largely declined the invitation to cooperate with the PEGA committee," lawmakers said. “Some governments downright refused to cooperate, others were friendly and polite but did not really share meaningful information. Even a simple questionnaire sent to all member states about the details of their national legal framework for the use of spyware, has hardly received any substantial answers."
The committee also deplored that Europol, the EU's crime agency, did not start an investigation into the matter.
“Only after being pressed by the European Parliament, it addressed a letter to five Member States, asking if a police inquiry had started, and if they could be of assistance," lawmakers said in their draft report.
Following debates with political groups from the Parliament and the possible addition of amendments, a vote on the committee's final findings will be held next year.