Poland's prosecutor general says previous government used spyware against hundreds of people

WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s prosecutor general told the parliament on Wednesday that powerful Pegasus spyware was used against hundreds of people during the former government in Poland, among them elected officials.

Adam Bodnar told lawmakers that he found the scale of the surveillance “shocking and depressing.”

“It is sad for me that even in this room I am speaking to people who were victims of this system,” Bodnar told the Sejm, the lower house of parliament.

Bodnar, who is also the justice minister, didn’t specify who exactly was subject to surveillance by the spyware. His office said the information was confidential.

Bodnar was presenting information that the prosecutor general’s office sent last week to the Sejm and Senate. The data showed that Pegasus was used in the cases of 578 people from 2017 to 2022, and that it was used by three separate government agencies: the Central Anticorruption Bureau, the Military Counterintelligence Service and the Internal Security Agency.

He said that the software generated “enormous knowledge” about the “private and professional lives” of those put under surveillance. He also stressed that the Polish state doesn’t have full control over the data that is gathered because the system operates on the basis of a license that was granted by an Israeli company. He said ”the use of this type of method must raise serious doubts from the point of view of the protection of constitutional rights.”

Pegasus, produced by Israeli company NSO Group, has been sold to governments and is described as a tool to fight criminals and terrorists. However, evidence has emerged that some governments have used it against political opponents, journalists and human rights workers.

The spyware gives its operators complete access to a mobile device, allowing them to extract passwords, photos, messages, contacts and browsing history and activate the microphone and camera for real-time eavesdropping.

Its use in Poland under the previous government, led by the Law and Justice party, resulted in accusations that the authorities were abusing power and eroding democratic guardrails.

Investigations into the use of the powerful spyware were launched after Prime Minister Donald Tusk took office in December as the head of a three-party pro-European Union coalition.

The investigations into Pegasus use are part of a larger effort by Tusk and Bodnar to restore democratic norms that they believe were eroded by the Law and Justice government, which held power from 2015 to 2023.

“The use of Pegasus over these few years has poisoned the essence of democracy in Poland,” Marcin Bosacki, a lawmaker with Tusk’s centrist Civic Coalition, told lawmakers after Bodnar’s presentation.

Jarosław Kaczyński, the head of Law and Justice, said last month during testimony to an investigative commission that the “use of Pegasus was in accordance with the law,” and that in 99% of the cases it was used against criminals.

The minister currently in charge of the security services, Tomasz Siemoniak, said earlier this month in an interview on the private broadcaster TVN24 that while the use of Pegasus in Poland was “justified” in some cases of suspected terrorism and for counterintelligence use, in “too many cases” it wasn’t justified.

Siemoniak said the unjustified use of the software resulted in Poland losing its license for using it.

Bodnar is also working to address the issue of judicial independence after the previous government overhauled the justice system to gain more control over courts.

The practices of Law and Justice prompted the European Union to withhold billions of euros in funding — money that is now flowing after a change of government.

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