Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) One year after the Pegasus Project revelations, the lack of a global moratorium on the sale of spyware is allowing the surveillance industry to continue unchecked. On this wary important topic in Europe, the Member of EU Parlament Jordi Solé talks in an interview with Brussels Morning.
Sarhan Basem (SB) Surveillance of private phone devices is illegal unless there is explicit authorization by a prosecutor and/or judge. How do we know that this software is not in the hands of ruthless dictators and why is there a different regime to the sale of such products to say weapons of mass destruction?
Jordi Solé (JS): Well, it is clear that not only ruthless dictators have acquired spyware like Pegasus or Predator. A lot of European member states too. Therefore, the same question applies to them: whom do you spy on and why? Besides this, we should take into account that the sole use of these invasive and non-regulated spyware tools is potentially in full contradiction with the requirements of necessity and proportionality that any judicial authorisation should have. I do not see how the use of Pegasus nowadays can be legal. Especially when used against elected officials, lawyers, or civil society leaders.
Having said that, even if there is judicial authorisation to infect my phone – which, by the way, I am still waiting for the Spanish authorities to confirm if that is my case -, more questions arise: under which legal grounds do they do it? Who stores the information stolen? How much information do they get? When those intrusions occurred? Which remedies apply to the victims? There are too many questions without answers and this is not acceptable anywhere, particularly, in rule of law democracies.
If European countries are not providing convincing and lawful arguments for these loopholes, clearly something is wrong. That is why we are calling for an EU moratorium on the purchase of this software. Meanwhile, we should work on developing a proper EU framework like, as you said, weapons have.
2. SB: Given the proliferation of Pegasus use in Europe, do you feel the West is able to maintain the moral high ground vis-a-vis these regimes?
JS: We have always criticized EU double standards when it comes to the respect of rule-of-law and human rights. We should request the same level of scrutiny and diligence with breaches of the EU law and principles to our member states. We were very disappointed, for instance, with EUs equidistance towards Spain’s imprisonment and persecution of Catalan leaders, or with EU illegal pushbacks in our borders, or the killing of journalists like Daphne Caruana. Europe has a very strong geopolitical role when it comes to the protection of human rights and democracy in the world, this is the reason why we should lead as example.
3. SB: The Greens are now in government in Germany, holding the MFA portfolio. Does that make a difference in human rights standards across the EU, including digital privacy?
JS: It totally makes the difference. The Greens have a long-standing position on the protection of digital rights at the European level. Having the Greens in the government of EU capitals ensures the needed push for a digital policy with high standards when it comes to human rights protection. Digitalisation brings a lot of opportunities but also unprecedented challenges that require bold political action.
SB: Can democratic politics exist in a world with no separation of the private and the public sphere? Is digital totalitarianism eroding democracy?
JS: Totalitarism, being either analogic or digital equally erodes democracy. However, it is true that digitalization gives new powerful tools to governments that misused can be very dangerous. We must create robust legislation in order to avoid or discourage not only States but also businesses, from their temptation to pry or spy into other people’s lives for political or commercial purposes. In this sense, the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act are good steps in the direction to create a safer digital space where the fundamental rights of users are protected and establish a level playing field for businesses.
5. SB: Who benefited from spying on you?
JS: According to some leaks in the press, the former Director of the Spanish National Security Agency would have admitted during a hearing in the Official Secrets Committee of the Spanish Congress having spied on the telephones of 18 Catalan pro-independence leaders with judicial authorisation, but did not provide any information to the other 47 who very also hacked by Pegasus as confirmed Citizens Lab. I would say that the guess is easy.