Polish parliamentary commission convenes to probe use of Pegasus

The wheels are now turning. A Polish parliamentary commission probing the use of the infamous Pegasus spyware by the previous administration has convened for its first meeting on Monday.

The probe aims to analyze the deployment of Pegasus, a cyber-surveillance tool, in Poland under the country’s previous right-wing government. It had allegedly used the tool against political opponents and journalists.

Pegasus spyware, developed by NSO Group, an Israeli technology company, is supposed to be used only for tracking terrorists and major criminals. But it’s been used to surveil activists and critics in both democratic and authoritarian countries around the world, and it seems that Poland is not an exception.

It all started in 2019 when Krzysztof Brejza, who is now an MP, was running in the Senate election and had his reputation smeared in what he said was a campaign by TVP, a state TV service.

Two years later, in 2021, Citizen Lab, a spyware research group based at the University of Toronto, worked with the Associated Press to discover that Brejza’s cell phone was compromised a total of 33 times in the six months leading up to the election.

Researchers also said that the Pegasus spyware from NSO Group, its Israel-based developer, was used. The court in Poland also confirmed recently that TVP was colluding with the now-former ruling party, Law and Justice.

Now, officials say that the use of the Pegasus spyware appears to have been much wider than initially suspected.

On February 12th, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said during a meeting with President Andrzej Duda that “the list of the victims of those practices is unfortunately very, very long.” No such list has been made public so far, but Marcin Bosacki, a Civic Platform MP, said it could include hundreds of people.

"Certainly, the most prominent politicians of the Law and Justice party will have to answer before the commission and explain how Pegasus was purchased, with what funds, the role here of the former Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, and why this spyware, this cyber weapon, was used in Poland against the political opposition," said Bosacki, according to Polish state news agency PAP.

Finally, Tomasz Trela, a leftist lawmaker, has told reporters that "this could prove to be one of the biggest scandals in Poland since 1989." According to officials, journalists, lawyers, and even politicians from the Law and Justice party were surveilled.

In 2022, the European Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry, investigating the use of Pegasus and equivalent surveillance spyware (PEGA), got the NSO group to confirm that at least 14 EU member states, including Poland, had purchased the Pegasus spyware.

In Poland, the spyware was purchased by the Anti-Corruption Bureau in 2017 for about 25 million zloty ($6.2 million). Public funds were used.

The commission has a broad mandate to investigate the legality, correctness, and purpose of operational and reconnaissance activities using Pegasus, PAP said. This includes actions by the government, special services, and police from November 16th, 2015 to November 20th, 2023.

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