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Spain court halts probe into spyware due to Israel lack of cooperation

July 14, 2023 at 3:44 pm

European Council President Charles Michel (not seen) meets Spanish President Pedro Sanchez at the Palace of Moncloa in Madrid, Spain on July 2, 2023 [Burak Akbulut – Anadolu Agency]

A Spanish judge investigating the Israeli-made Pegasus spyware used against top politicians, including Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, has halted the case due to a “complete” lack of cooperation from Israel, a court statement announced on Monday.

According to The Times of Israel, the Audiencia Nacional, Spain’s top criminal court said Jose Luis Calama had sent a formal letter to the Israeli government more than a year ago requesting information about the software made by Israeli firm, NSO Group, but never received a response.

“This silence clearly shows an absolute lack of legal cooperation on the part of the government of Israel. This leads us to presume that the judicial request in question, which has been sent four times, will never be executed,” Calama said.

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Spyware programmes such as Pegasus have previously been widely used by governments and other agencies to spy on dissidents, the media and activists.

Once installed in a mobile phone, the Pegasus spyware allows access to all messages or data on the device, as well as controls it remotely to record sounds or capture images.

In response to the reported lack of cooperation on behalf of Israel with the Spanish criminal investigation, Donncha Ó Cearbhaill, Head of the Security Lab at Amnesty Tech, slammed the State’s behaviour as “symptomatic of the impunity surrounding the misuse of spyware and cyber-surveillance technology.”

“The Israeli authorities simply not even engaging with Spain’s highest criminal court shows the complete inadequacy of supposed avenues for redress related to violations by the spyware industry,” she said.

“This case also exposes the flawed, laissez-faire approach to the international regulation of cyber surveillance systems. States, including the EU, should not allow companies to freely export these potentially harmful technologies around the world and then shirk all responsibility when they are dangerously and illegally misused,” she added.

“It’s a simple fact that highly invasive spyware poses a real danger to the privacy and security of everyone. It has become the weapon of choice for governments seeking to silence journalists, attack activists and crush dissent, placing countless lives at risk. It must be outlawed now.”

The investigation began last year in May and, among those targeted, included the phones of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, Defence Minister Margarita Robles, Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska and Agriculture Minister Luis Planas.

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