The phone of Polish prosecutor Eva Wrzosek was infected six times in 2021, an investigation by Citizen Lab revealed. She only learned that she had been suspected of being hacked when Apple sent out warnings to iPhone users around the world. All data could have been compromised, from contacts to communication data and photos, as well as information on her clients. She would not wish this on any of her enemies. The public prosecutor’s office did not want to investigate this because no criminal offence had been committed, so Wrzosek went to court. The Minister of Justice, on the other hand, made public that he did not agree to use Pegasus against Wrzosek. She does not find this explanation credible. It is therefore impossible to explain how Pegasus was used in Poland. The use is not covered by any laws. As public authorities, we have to make sure that such practices are stopped. The unlawful wiretapping of EU citizens must never happen again.
When asked, Wrzosek explained that she continues to use her phone, also to be able to investigate it further. All her friends, relatives, but also police authorities could have been tapped. Maybe she was tapped to discredit her or to blackmail her. She has no idea what was tapped and who has it. The information obtained with Pegasus could not be used as evidence in court. That is why there are no figures on the use of the spyware. The current government is breaking the law, while citizens are not allowed to.
Citizen Lab found that lawyer Roman Giertych was hacked at least 18 times in the last four months of 2019. The opposition lawyer explains that it makes a big difference if spyware is used to fight terrorism and serious crime, or as in Poland against the opposition. Especially wiretapping lawyers is to be condemned. This paves the way for an authoritarian state. There is a difference between Poland and Russia, because there is an independent judiciary. There is also a free media in Poland. There are many examples in history where democracy was in danger. Mechanisms are needed to protect three valuable assets: Free media, the rule of law and elections.
The wiretapping showed that there is no basic confidentiality between lawyers and clients in Poland, Giertych explained when asked by MEP’s. This was even published in the media. There had been no legal basis for the interception, he had not committed any criminal offence, but he had conducted proceedings against the government or its high representatives such as PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Intercepting the communications of a lawyer and his client is basically illegal in Poland. All judges in Poland know him, no one would ever have given permission to wiretap him. Two years later, the court or the public prosecutor’s office wanted to see his mobile phone in order to examine it forensically, but this was not possible. There is no way to protect Polish citizens from unlawful surveillance. In the PEGA committee of enquiry, he saw the „only hope“ that those responsible in Poland would be held accountable.
Anna Błaszczak reports that Amnesty was involved in investigating attacks on 80 journalists from 70 media houses. The Pegasus Project together with the journalistic network Forbidden Stories showed how activists, lawyers and politicians are affected by spyware and unlawfully attacked. This impacts the right to freedom of expression and right to privacy and has an influence on the „offline world“ as well.
The Pegasus attacks on opposition politicians in Poland are suspected to have been carried out by the authorities there and are unlawful and disproportionate. There have been six such cases of unlawful surveillance in Poland. Citizen Lab and Amnesty International have made public the procedures used to detect the infections. Attacks on iPhones were more easily detected than on Android devices. On the latter, 14 traces of infected messages were found. Known victims include opposition Civic Platform senator Krzysztof Brejza, who was targeted in 2019 during the Polish parliamentary election campaign. The cases contain Roman Giertych, the lawyer of former EU council president Donald Tusk. Traces were also found on Magdalena Łośko’s phone, when she was his assistant. Attempts had thus been made to phones of former deputy treasury ministers Pawel Tamborski and Rafal Baniak. There were 61 attacks registered against the lobbyist and PR expert Andrzej Długosz. Other high profile cases include Roman Giertych, the lawyer of former EU council president Donald Tusk.
Professor Adam Bodnar believes in the work of the PEGA committee. It is not just about intruding into the lives of the people concerned. Pegasus is a huge threat to democracy. The government must explain how 25 million złoty from the Ministry of Justice’s fund was spent on procuring Pegasus. There is an urgent need to create an institution to control the secret services. Surveillance of a lawyer, for example, has a great impact on fundamental rights; surveillance of politicians is also a big problem, especially when it concerns the most important political opponent. Legally, the use is also not regulated; spyware deeply intrudes into the lives of those affected. Moreover, the state buys the licences and does not own them itself, so the use is not legally defined. Pegasus is actually a consequence of things that have happened before.
The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe had already dealt with surveillance by spyware in Poland in 2016. Professor Bodnar had participated in developing procedures in Poland to notify those affected by such measures. These could also apply at EU level.
When asked, Professor Bodnar explained that information resulting from the attacks had also been published in the media. People had also been affected unintentionally (so-called „bycatch“). These third parties would also have to be entitled to take action against the attacks and the violation of their privacy. Other spyware was also used in Poland, for example to record metadata. Appropriate laws to oversee such practices had not been implemented. Spyware like Pegasus is capable of influencing elections.
See here the stream of today‘s hearing.