Home EU rethinks spyware regulations

EU rethinks spyware regulations

Nov 11 – On Tuesday, a draft report from European Union lawmakers announced that a Europe-wide moratorium on surveillance software, such as NSO Group’s products, is needed.

The report was composed by Dutch member of the European Parliament, Sophie in ‘t Veld, who chairs a committee that has spent time investigating the use of spyware across 27 EU countries.

“In a democracy, putting people under surveillance should be an exception and there should be rules,” stated Ms. in ‘t Veld.

Surveillance software proposal

The latest report follows a September proposal from the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, which aimed to ban the use of surveillance software for the purpose of spying on journalists. Advocates are currently calling for even broader regulations around how governments should be able to use spyware.

Ms. in ‘t Veld’s report suggests that a European country should only be permitted to sell, acquire and use spyware if certain criteria are met. This includes disclosing a list of crimes for which deployment of spyware is permissible, and proof of license for spyware use. “We need to strengthen supranational enforcement,” said in ‘t Veld.

On Monday, the government of Greece declared that it would ban the sale of spyware after a newspaper reported that more than 30 individuals, including politicians and journalists, had unwittingly been subjected to state surveillance.

In recent months, reports of spyware use in Greece have triggered an uproar after an opposition politician discovered that his phone had been monitored with a spyware known as Predator.

The case for tighter regulation

The European Parliament investigative committee will proceed with its work for several months and host a vote on the final version of the report next year.

In-line with this initiative, the European Court of Human Rights, which hears cases alleging rights violations by member states, has been outspoken about national governments’ roles in regulating surveillance.

In September, the court ruled that Hungarian legislation lacked sufficient safeguards. The ruling followed a case pertaining to Benedek Javor, a former member of the European Parliament, who alleged that his phone was surveilled during his time in office.

Biden administration’s actions

In 2021, the Biden administration placed the NSO Group on an export prohibition list, preventing the company from buying certain technology from the U.S. and complicating the company’s attempt to obtain international customers. The effort followed investigations from a consortium of news outlets into the group’s solicitation of its goods to dozens of government and law-enforcement customers around the world.

Privacy advocates call for ban

Privacy advocates have asked for permanent bans on software like Pegasus, arguing that the technology goes beyond spyware. The tech enables the owner to actually take control of a target’s phone, presenting them with the ability to make changes to their data. Says Fanny Hidv égi, Europe policy and advocacy director at the non-profit known as Access Now, no safeguards can make such use legitimate.

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