A new case of espionage against the leader of the Greek Socialist Party worries the European Commission

A new case of espionage against the leader of the Greek Socialist Party worries the European Commission

A new case of an attempt to tap the mobile phone of the leader of the Greek socialist opposition with surveillance software has made Brussels cringe. A spokesperson for the European Commission said such practices were “unacceptable” if they were confirmed.

Greek Socialist leader and MEP (Pasok, S&D) Nikos Androulakis filed a complaint with prosecutors on Monday (July 26) after the European Parliament’s cybersecurity services informed him of an attempt to tap his mobile phone using of spyware.

“There was an attempt to wiretap my cell phone with the Predator surveillance malware”said Mr. Androulakis.

“Revealing those who hide behind such unhealthy practices (…) is not a personal matter, but my democratic duty”he added.

The software is a surveillance tool that provides access to the victim’s mobile device including passwords, files, photos, browsing history and identity data. It can also take screenshots, record user input, and activate the device’s camera and microphone.

Pasok is Greece’s third-largest political party and is set to emerge as a kingmaker in forming a coalition government after the next general election in 2023.

Contacted by EURACTIV, a European Commission spokesperson confirmed that the executive had received a letter regarding the case.

“As you know, the Commission does not comment on individual cases. More generally, what we can say is that we are aware of cases reported by the media regarding spyware used by some governments”said the spokesperson.

“Any attempt by national security services to illegally access the data of citizens, including journalists and political opponents, if confirmed, is unacceptable”the spokesperson added.

The EU spokesperson also cited the latest 2022 report on the rule of law in Greece, which refers to the case of a journalist who was targeted by spyware equivalent to Pegasus (Predator) and another journalist who would have been “monitored by national intelligence services”.

National intelligence services are under the supervision of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

The EU spokesman said national security is the competence of member states. They must, however, apply European law in this area and supervise and control their security services in order to ensure that they fully respect fundamental rights, in particular the protection of personal data, the safety of journalists and freedom of expression.

“While Member States have jurisdiction over safeguarding their national security, they must apply relevant EU law, including CJEU case law, when doing so”the EU official said.

“The Commission expects national authorities to thoroughly investigate any such allegation and restore citizens’ confidence”concluded the spokesperson.

The suspicious SMS

According to press reports, a check of Mr. Androulakis’ phone took place on June 28 and found a suspicious link to the illegal spyware Predator.

Pasok sources said the socialist leader received a text message on September 21, 2021, shortly before the start of internal party deliberations.

The message urged him to click on a specific link, which, according to a report by Citizens Lab at the University of Toronto, serves as a decoy to install the Predator tracking software on the target’s cell phone.

The message read as follows: “Let’s be serious, man, we have a lot to gain”followed by a link, which was a spoof of a genuine website.

Mr Androulakis did not click on the link, which seems to have saved him from the worst, commented party sources.

The same sources added that out of more than 200 checks of MEPs’ mobile phones carried out by the European Parliament, this was the first case of an attempt to tap a personal telephone device.

Tech advisers aren’t ruling out the possibility of listening in on the call with other systems that leave no trace, the sources said.

The Pasok party says the target was not just Mr Androulakis’ private life but also aimed to affect his political activity.

Reactions in Athens

All opposition parties reacted strongly to this new spyware case and called on the government to provide answers.

Greek government spokesman Yannis Economou said the case needed to be dealt with urgently.

Greece’s conservative New Democracy (EPP) government has repeatedly denied buying the Predator surveillance software.

However, Thanasis Koukakis, the journalist whose phone was detected with Predator, said last May that Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) warned: “we estimate that the likely government-backed actors buying these exploits operate (at least) in Egypt, Armenia, Greece, Madagascar, Ivory Coast, Serbia, Spain and Indonesia”.

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