The Polish government’s purchase of Israeli-made Pegasus spyware was “illegal”, according to a report issued by the opposition-controlled Senate, which has been investigating cases of the technology being used against figures critical of the ruling party.
The Senate commission also found the use of spyware against opposition figures rendered the 2019 elections – which were won by the ruling party – unfair. It has announced that it will inform prosecutors of a number of suspected crimes committed by the authorities in relation to the use of Pegasus.
In response, the interior minister has rejected the accusations, arguing that surveillance tools are only used according to established legal standards, including requiring the consent of a court.
Found „gross violations of constitutional standards”
Says 2019 elections where #Pegasus was used against opposition leadership were not fair.
(Pics: Machine translated) Report: https://t.co/Bt5poleuCj pic.twitter.com/bbWk32Na6R
— John Scott-Railton (@jsrailton) September 7, 2023
“Pegasus is a means of total surveillance, as the commission found by listening to both Polish and foreign experts,” said its chairman Marcin Bosacki, a senator from Civic Coalition (KO), Poland’s main opposition group.
He noted that the spyware was used on at least 12 people in Poland, including opposition politician Krzysztof Brejza – who was at the time head of KO’s 2019 election campaign – and two figures critical of the government, Roman Giertych and Michał Kołodziejczak, who are currently standing as KO election candidates.
Earlier this year, a European Parliament inquiry also found that Poland had used Pegasus as part of “a system for the surveillance of the opposition and critics of the government – designed to keep the ruling majority and the government in power”. This “violates fundamental rights and endangers democracy”.
Spyware has been used in Poland to „systematically surveil the opposition” in order to „keep the government in power”, an EU report has found.
„The information harvested is used in smear campaigns through government-controlled state media,” it adds https://t.co/xlrZ0O8Qe4
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) May 10, 2023
In its findings published this week, the Polish Senate commission said that it had established, in cooperation with the Supreme Audit Office (NIK), that the government’s purchase of Pegasus in 2017 was unlawful. It was bought with funds from a justice ministry fund intended for victims of crime.
The commission also found that the current legal framework in Poland does not guarantee effective oversight of the security services. And it announced that it has decided to notify prosecutors of suspected crimes by interior minister Mariusz Kamiński and Ernest Bejda, the former head of the Central Anticorruption Bureau (CBA).
Others suspected by the Senate committee of committing crime include current deputy finance minister Piotr Patkowski and deputy justice minister Michal Woś.
Among the offences the Senate believes took place were officials exceeding their powers, unlawfully obtaining information, spying, issuing a decision to use an uncertified system for operational control, making false accusations, creating false evidence, covering up criminal offences and destroying evidence.
My latest podcast is here. I talk to @jsrailton, who uncovered the Pegasus spyware hacking of opposition figures in Poland. He says hacks on opposition politician @KrzysztofBrejza during 2019 election campaign were among most intensive he has seen anywhere.https://t.co/KdondyoDn5
— Stanley Bill (@StanleySBill) January 24, 2022
However, Kamiński, who as well as being interior minister is also the coordinator of Poland’s security services, rejected the commission’s allegations, assuring that all operations were fully legal.
“As far as surveillance is concerned, in Poland this is always done with the approval of the prosecutor’s office and with the consent of a court,” he told Polskie Radio. “It is the court that decides on the use of such offensive operational methods if the situation described by the service justifies it.”
The minister accused the Senate of using the committee’s report as a tool in the ongoing campaign for October’s parliamentary elections.
Poland’s state auditor says he has an invoice showing the authorities purchased Pegasus spyware of the type later used to hack opposition figures.
The scandal is „one of the most serious crises of democracy” Poland has faced, he says https://t.co/DiomKMB6gS
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) January 3, 2022
In a set of recommendations included in the conclusions of its report, the Senate commission called for stronger oversight of the police and security services by courts, the human rights commissioner and parliament.
It also advocated granting prosecutorial powers to NIK and separating the functions of justice minister and attorney general, positions currently both held by Zbigniew Ziobro.
The commission also wants the Internal Security Agency (ABW) to provide cybersecurity to all electoral staffs and for the Supreme Court, when determining the validity of elections, to be able to examine the entire electoral process and not just the voting itself.
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Main image credit: Marcin Bosacki/Twitter
Alicja Ptak is senior editor at Notes from Poland and a multimedia journalist. She previously worked for Reuters.