By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) – Hungary’s government has denied wrongdoing after a worldwide investigation showed authorities infected cellphones to spy on critical journalists, politicians, and business figures.
The investigation by a global media consortium showed Hungary was among several nations using military-grade spyware from Israel-based surveillance company NSO Group.
The spyware ‘Pegasus’ infiltrates phones to receive personal and location data. It also controls the smartphone’s microphones and cameras remotely. That potentially lets hackers spy on reporters’ communications with sources as well as their private lives.
Among those targeted in Hungary are at least 10 lawyers, one opposition politician and at some five journalists, leaked lists showed.
NSO Group denied it had ever maintained “a list of potential, past or existing targets.”
The results of the investigation, headed by the French nonprofit journalism organization Forbidden Stories, prompted three members of Hungary’s parliamentary national security committee to call for an emergency session.
The three legislators, who are part of the opposition, want to question government agencies on their potential involvement in the spying.
The Hungarian government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán condemned those efforts. A statement said that Hungary “is a democratic state governed by the rule of law.”
A statement added that governmental and nongovernmental institutions regularly monitor state bodies authorized to use covert instruments “.”
“What would be the answer of the governments of the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Germany or France to the same questions? Will, we ever find out who — or which secret services — have an interest in pillorying Hungary?” the government said.
Hungary’s Ministry of Justice didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told reporters after a meeting in the northern city of Komarom on Monday that his government was “unaware of any such data collection.”
He said the civilian intelligence agency he oversees “did not participate in any way” in the spying. Szijjarto suggested that the investigation was a “coordinated communication action” by unnamed secret services.
Hungary is the only known European Union country to spy on journalists.
The investigation was based on a list of more than 50,000 cellphone numbers obtained by Forbidden Stories and human rights group Amnesty International. They identified more than 1,000 individuals in 50 countries allegedly selected by NSO clients for potential surveillance.
Besides Hungary, other nations with autocratic leaders are trying to obtain information illegally, the report showed.
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a US-based critic of Saudi Arabia’s government, was murdered and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
The investigation revealed that the spyware was used to try to monitor the two women closest to Khashoggi, along with other members of his inner circle.
One of the women was reportedly Hanan Elatr, an Egyptian flight attendant and Khashoggi’s wife.
Back in Hungary, authorities tried to play down the story. However, the EU’s executive European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Monday the spyware scandal was “completely unacceptable” if confirmed.
“This has to be verified, but if it is the case, it is completely unacceptable,” she told reporters in Prague.
Critics see the controversy as a broader Hungarian government crackdown.
Authorities forced most independent media to close down or become part of government-led outlets.
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