By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News reporting from Budapest, Hungary
BUDAPEST (Worthy News) – Leaders of the European Union’s parliament committee investigating espionage accused Hungary’s government of targeting hundreds of perceived opponents with Israeli spyware technology.
“Everything indicates that [the Pegasus] spyware was grossly abused,” said the PEGA, or the Committee of Inquiry investigating the use of Pegasus and equivalent spyware.
Pegasus, made by the Israeli technology company NSO Group, was used against some 300 Hungarians, according to leaked reports.
Most of those targeted were journalists, lawyers, demonstrators, and other perceived opponents of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government, Worthy News learned.
The Pegasus spyware infects the phones of victims through a variety of means.
A well-informed U.S. diplomat said spying on opponents dramatically increased under the perceived autocratic Orbán who has ruled Hungary continuously since 2010.
Reports suggested a surveillance effort by the government reminiscent of an Orwellian nightmare.
The Pegasus spyware infected the smartphones of victims through a variety of mechanisms. Some approaches involved a text message with a link to a website that, if clicked, compromised the device.
The spyware could then capture keystrokes, intercept communications, track the device and use the camera and microphone to spy on the user.
European legislators Jeroen Lenaers and Sophia in ’t Veld, the PEGA rapporteur, said their two-day visit to Budapest this week confirmed fears that the “Orbán’ regime” used its power against citizens.
Lenaers told the media that Hungary’s government rejected meeting the delegation of the European Parliament shortly before its arrival without giving proper justification.
He said Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga “chose to attack us with… conspiracy theories on foreign forces attacking Hungary”.
Varga, in charge of European Union affairs, defended her decision and suggested that PEGA was a politically motivated grouping. “We do not wish to assist to the performance of the Hungarian and European left-wing funded by [U.S. billionaire George] Soros-dollars.”
Lenaers complained that they did not explain why Hungarian authorities had wiretapped so many people. “Are demonstrators, lawyers, and journalists really such a threat to public safety?” He noted that Hungarian authorities cited national security concerns as a “blanket reason to target anyone…”
“Here in Hungary, it is clear that people feel that their basic rights are systematically violated,” Lenaers stressed.
He said victim protection and legal remedies are “insufficient” as targets are not notified after the surveillance ends, which “violates” rules of the European Court of Human Rights.
Lenaers urged the Hungarian government to “follow EU legislation and safeguard fundamental rights and provide the citizens of Hungary with proper options for redress.”
In ‘t Veld said spying on people “vital for democracy,” such as journalists, Non-Governmental Organizations, and opposition politicians, harms the rule of law itself. She wondered why the “Orbán regime” was so afraid to explain what happened.
She said Pegasus could excessively intrude on the victim’s private life by accessing the entire content of their mobile phone. In ‘t Veld called the abuse of spyware “the biggest threat to democracy at this moment in time.”
Spyware concerns are “very much Europe’s business because every single member state is a part of the European Union,” she warned.
“With the use of spyware, you can manipulate elections,” she added.
The committee is due to prepare its final report in April.
Its comments come at a sensitive time for Orbán, who expects billions of euros in frozen funding from Brussels as Hungary faces the EU’s highest inflation of over 25 percent.
However, the EU has so far declined to unlock any of the more than 20 billion dollars Hungary would receive in the short term from different arrangements, citing concerns over the rule of law and democratic standards.
But with tensions rising, Orbán again threatens to veto the extension of EU sanctions against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine. He reportedly first wants four individuals removed from the list.
Hungary also opposes a proposal — backed by all other EU countries — to prolong the extension period from six to 12 months, giving Budapest fewer opportunities to torpedo sanctions and derail EU decisions.
Yet the EU still aims to adopt the tenth sanctions package this week, before the one-year mark of the full-scale Russian invasion on February 24.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the EU’s executive, said the package would limit 11 billion euros worth of electronic components used in Russian weapons – such as drones, missiles, and helicopters.
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