By JUSTIN SPIKE, Associated Press
BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) – Opposition lawmakers in Hungary’s parliament have called for an investigation into the findings of an international investigation that the country’s right-wing government used powerful malware to spy on journalists, politicians and critical businessmen.
Investigation by a global media consortium suggested that military-grade spyware from the Israeli group NSO, an infamous hacker group, was used in Hungary to infiltrate digital devices with a range of targets – including at least 10 lawyers, an opposition politician and at least five journalists.
The results of the investigation, led by the French non-profit journalistic organization Histoires interdite, were published on Sunday, prompting three members of the Hungarian parliamentary committee on national security to request an emergency session to question government agencies on their possible involvement in espionage.
Janos Stummer, chairman of the committee and MP for the right-wing opposition Jobbik party, told The Associated Press that the surveillance described by the investigation is “not permitted in a state governed by the rule of law.”
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The committee will question Hungary’s national security and intelligence agencies about the allegations, he said, adding that a majority of the committee seats are held by ruling party lawmakers who could potentially block the investigation. by boycotting the session.
“Our view is that to remain silent would essentially be an acknowledgment that the government is indeed involved in this,” Stummer said.
The investigation, drawn from a list of more than 50,000 mobile phone numbers obtained by Forbidden Stories and the human rights group Amnesty International, identified more than 1,000 people in 50 countries who were allegedly selected by customers. of the ONS for potential monitoring.
The malware, Pegasus, infiltrates phones to suck up personal and location data and surreptitiously control smartphone microphones and cameras. In the case of journalists, this allows hackers to spy on journalists’ communications with sources.
The Guardian, part of the 16-member media consortium that carried out the investigation, reported that a forensic analysis revealed that the phones of two journalists from Hungarian investigative media Direkt36 had been repeatedly infected. by malware.
The NSO Group denied in an email response to AP that it ever maintained “a list of potential targets, past or existing.” In a separate statement, he called the Forbidden Stories report “filled with flawed assumptions and unsubstantiated theories.”
A Hungarian government spokesperson previously denied knowledge of any data collection. Neither the government’s international communications office nor the Justice Department immediately responded to requests for comment.
The allegations of government espionage come against a backdrop of rapidly deteriorating press freedom and plurality in Hungary. Since Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his ruling Fidesz party took power in 2010, the country has fallen from 23 to 92 in the World Press Freedom Index ranking.
Earlier this month, the press watchdog Reporters Without Borders placed Orban on its list of “predators”, the first time a Western European leader has appeared in the list of heads of state or of governments which “massively repressed” the freedom of the press.
Peter Ungar, a member of the Hungarian national security committee of the opposition Green Party LMP, told the AP that the committee would seek to determine whether those identified by the investigation had indeed been under surveillance.
He would also ask who authorized the surveillance and for what reasons, and what was done with the data collected, he said.
“If part of this is true, even half, this is one of the most serious national security scandals I have seen,” Ungar said.
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