Hungary: The government must provide a meaningful response to the Pegasus scandal

Hungarian journalism non-profit Direkt36 today published a major investigation into the use of NSO Group’s notorious Pegasus spyware in Hungary, revealing that the phones of more than 300 Hungarian nationals were identified as possible targets for infection. Experts from Amnesty International were able to confirm several cases where the spyware was successfully installed.

The revelations come as part of the Pegasus Project, a ground-breaking collaboration by more than 80 journalists from 17 media organizations in 10 countries coordinated by Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based media non-profit. Amnesty International provided technical support, carrying out cutting- edge forensic tests on mobile phones to identify traces of NSO Group spyware.

“The Hungarian government should immediately provide a meaningful response to this latest revelation by the Pegasus Project and clarify whether it knew about or approved the covert surveillance of journalists, businessmen and others. If Hungarian authorities did know about these violations, they must explain on what basis they allowed them,” said Dávid Vig, Director of Amnesty Hungary.

The Hungarian government should immediately provide a meaningful response to this latest revelation by the Pegasus Project and clarify whether it knew about or approved the covert surveillance of journalists, businessmen and others
Dávid Vig, Director of Amnesty International Hungary

“Hungary’s surveillance practices have long been a matter of concern. The National Security Services Act allows for secret surveillance without any independent external oversight, and this investigation demonstrates the urgent need for reform. The Hungarian government must introduce regulations that comply with international standards, and which provide safeguards against uncontrolled collection and potential misuse of personal data.

“NSO Group can no longer hide behind the claim that its spyware is only used to fight crime - there is overwhelming and growing evidence that Pegasus is being systematically used for repression and abuse.  We call on NSO Group to immediately stop selling its equipment to countries with a track record of putting human right defenders and journalists under unlawful surveillance.

“The surveillance industry is out of control. States must implement a global moratorium on the sale, transfer and use of surveillance equipment, until a human rights framework is in place.”

Background

NSO Group’s spyware has been used to facilitate human rights violations around the world on a massive scale, according to a major investigation into the leak of 50,000 phone numbers of potential surveillance targets. These include heads of state, activists and journalists, including Jamal Khashoggi’s family.

Israeli surveillance giant NSO Group has been bankrolled by major private equity firms Novalpina Capital and Francisco Partners, with numerous investors behind them. Pension firms in the UK and US also have a stake in the rights abusing company.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2016 in the case of Szabó and Vissy v. Hungary that Hungarian legislation does not provide sufficient safeguards against abuse and violates the right to privacy and family life. The Court found that the surveillance measures could affect virtually anyone in Hungary, as the government is technologically enabled to intercept massive amounts of data which may belong to individuals not related to a particular investigation.

According to the Court, any case for surveillance should be subject to review by a body independent of the government. Currently, the Ministry of Justice is empowered to authorize surveillance and data gathering, without the need for external assessment of whether interception of communications was strictly necessary.