MPs launch spyware-for-sale probe

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Cyprus’ parliament opened an inquiry into the development of spyware on the island after a draft European Parliament committee investigation report said it was an important export hub for the surveillance industry.

Sophie in’t Veld, the rapporteur of the first draft report for a European Parliament committee called PEGA, said that Cyprus was an “attractive place” for selling surveillance technologies, adding that the “abuse of spyware in EU member states is a grave threat to democracy on the entire continent”.

The report cited Cypriot officials saying ‘three to four’ companies produce spyware on the island.

PEGA visited Cyprus and Greece last week on a fact-finding mission to establish a link to Israel’s Pegasus spyware, used across the continent in a ground-shaking surveillance scandal.

It is estimated that over 50,000 telephone numbers, mainly journalists, activists, and politicians, are being monitored through the software.

“It’s been confirmed that Cyprus is a greenhouse for companies which produce spyware … which has political backing,” said MP Aristos Damianou of the opposition AKEL party, which sought the parliamentary inquiry.

President Nicos Anastasiades last week said any involvement of Cyprus in spyware surveillance in other countries was ‘imaginary’.

Members of his conservative Democratic Rally party have accused the opposition of attempting to sway public opinion ahead of a presidential election in early 2023.

One spyware developer, Israel’s NSO group, said in a June 2021 report that its products were “closely regulated by export control authorities in the countries from which we export our products: Israel, Bulgaria and Cyprus”.

Pegasus is linked to Cyprus’ infamous spy van case, which AKEL reported in 2019.

In August, AKEL MEP George Georgiou called on the European Parliament to put Cyprus under the microscope and called for an on-site investigation concerning the eavesdropping scandal raging in Greece.

The company which created the surveillance software in Greece was founded by the former Israeli spy Tal Dilian, the main defendant in the Cyprus black van case.