Poland criticized for renewal of media law and new revelations on Pegasus spyware


Last Friday, a seemingly rushed motion by the ruling PiS party in the country’s lower house of parliament, the Sejm, led to the passage of a controversial new media law, aka “Lex TVN,” banning countries not EEA members to hold majority shares. media companies, despite the rejection of the same motion by the upper house, the Senate, in August.

As the nickname makes clear, it is aimed at Poland’s largest independent television channel, TVN, which is not without criticism of the government, and majority-owned by the U.S. Discovery Channel – albeit the government tried to avoid the link, describing it as “simply to fill a legal loophole” and “to align with media law in many other member states”.

The European Commission and the majority of MEPs were not convinced, with Parliament First Vice-President Roberta Metsola (MT, EPP) citing a tweet from Commission Vice-President for Values ​​and Transparency Věra Jourová:

Over the weekend, protests against the Polish government and in favor of media freedom took place in several Polish cities, and many MEPs highlighted them on social media, as the vice-president of Renew Group , Katalin Cseh:

The Polish government’s decision also deeply angered the US administration, which had pressured Warsaw not to oust the country’s biggest US investor. The US charge d’affaires at the Warsaw Embassy, ​​B. Bix Aliu, tweeted:

Whether the Polish president – generally known to have opposed the government – will heed Washington’s call and veto the law remains to be seen, but recent developments are unlikely to help bridge this particular transatlantic divide.

On Monday, the Associated Press (AP) released an analysis of data from Citizen Lab, a University of Toronto project, which showed Pegasus spyware was used on the smartphones of Polish opposition figures.

At the same time, pressure against Pegasus is increasing across the Atlantic, after U.S. diplomatic personnel stationed in Uganda were exposed as victims of unprecedented spyware viewing facilities earlier this month.

Already in early November, Washington had listed the software developer, Israeli defense contractor NSO, on its “entity list”, severely restricting trade with it, explaining that its tools were used to “carry out transnational repression” .

The latest revelations concern prominent lawyer and former Deputy Prime Minister Roman Giertych, and prosecutor Ewa Wrzosek.

“I consider my surveillance with Pegasus to be an illegal act on the part of state services.”

Ewa Wrzosek, Polish prosecutor

While the latter was targeted this summer after publicly criticizing the government, the former was hacked at least 18 times in the last quarter of 2019, according to Citizen Lab analysis.

At the time, he represented former Prime Minister and President of the European Council Donald Tusk, now at the head of the largest opposition party. Former Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski (PL, EPP), now chairman of the Parliament’s delegation for relations with the United States, was also targeted.

Wrosek told TVN24 in an interview on Tuesday that she viewed her surveillance with Pegasus as an “illegal act on the part of state services,” stressing that the matter was not only about her privacy, but also about the secrecy of its procedures.

According to AP, a Polish state security spokesperson has neither confirmed nor denied whether the government ordered the hacks or whether he is a client of NSO.

MEPs reacted with dismay to the Polish revelations, Sophie in ‘t Veld (NL, Renew) commenting:

And Daniel Freund, from the German Greens / ALE group, posted:

For their part, Sikorski and Tusk posted more optimistic comments in their native languages, the former of which was directed at responsible government ministers:

“Do you have judicial clearances to use #Pegasus against prosecutor Wrzostek and lawyer @GiertychRoman?” Did the purchase of the system, which is considered a weapon, comply with regulations, @WasikMaciej, @ZiobroPL, @Kaminski_M_? My advice is to keep your papers in order.

And Donald Tusk referred to Greek mythology and the sticky ending that happened to Bellerophon after he attempted to ride the winged horse:

“Pegasus was supposed to take his rider to Mount Olympus, but Zeus threw his visitor into the abyss and recaptured Pegasus. I explain – just in case – that this is a Greek myth, not a threat ”.

As of Monday, Citizen Lab has revealed further Pegasus-related analysis regarding state-sponsored surveillance of the widow of murdered Saudi dissident Jamal Kashoggi, who was targeted in the months leading up to the gruesome assassination. of her husband at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

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