EU spyware probe turns spotlight on Cyprus

2 mins read

Cyprus has played a major role as an export hub for spyware used in recent eavesdropping cases that have shaken the EU and a number of member states, noted a report by European Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry to investigate the use of Pegasus and equivalent surveillance spyware (PEGA).

“Cyprus has played a major role as an export hub for spyware, and should repeal all export licenses it has issued that are not in line with EU legislation,” said PEGA.

The parliamentary committee also made note of Cyprus’ involvement in the spy case that shook Greece, which saw spyware, namely the Pegasus, used to monitor opposition party leaders and journalists.

The committee has also requested that further investigations are made into reported cases of eavesdropping on journalists, lawyers, activists and citizens in Cyprus.

The European Parliament spyware inquiry adopted its final report and recommendations, condemning spyware abuses in several EU member states and setting out a way forward. The committee’s recommendations are expected to be voted in on Tuesday afternoon.

In comments to Astra Radio, AKEL MEP and a member of PEGA, George Georgiou, said that the report was damning for Cyprus.

“Alarmingly, PEGA’s findings reveal that the Republic of Cyprus has with great ease granted export licenses to companies producing such software,” said Georgiou.

He noted that PEGA reports that Cyprus, along with Bulgaria, were major export hubs for spyware to other EU member states, and a number of authoritarian states, such as Sudan.

He added that the Europarliament committee has asked for the findings of a probe carried out by the Republic into the case of the infamous “black spy van” case to be made public, as there were reports of malpractice.

Georgiou said that Cyprus’ authorities have not been cooperating with PEGA, as they refuse to hand over the findings of a probe into the spy van.

“PEGA believes that there is a possible link between the ‘spy van’ affair and Greece,” he noted.

The company which created the surveillance software in Greece was established by the former Israeli spy Tal Dilian, the main suspect in the Cyprus ‘black van’ case.

WiFi interception

Headed by the former Israeli intelligence agent, WiSpear, a company specialised in providing end-to-end WiFi interception and security solutions, was reportedly the owner of the black van which has been impounded in Cyprus.

Last year, the data protection watchdog imposed an administrative fine of €925,000 on WiSpear for GDPR violations.

“There was a close connection between Cyprus and Greece, following the case of the black van,” said Georgiou.

PEGA points to the establishment of Intellexa in Greece, which produced Predator and other surveillance equipment used to eavesdrop on politicians and journalists in Greece. Intellexa had been set up in Greece by Dilian, according to the report.

Georgiou further added that the committee recommended that a probe should be launched into Cyprus ties with Israel when it comes to spyware.

The AKEL MEP added that PEGA has requested reports of authorities’ eavesdropping on journalists, lawyers and activists, in which, as reported by Georgiou, DISY the ruling party of former President Nicos Anastasiades was involved.

In his comments, the MEP pointed out that the EP committee faced many obstacles in its drive to complete its work. He did not rule out a tug-of-war in Tuesday’s EP session due to pressure from involved parties to cover up responsibilities.

The PEGA report reflects the results of investigative missions by members of the committee to Israel, Poland, Greece, Cyprus, Hungary and Spain, in relation to complaints of the use of spy software, as well as complaints about the export of such services from EU countries.

The report also captures the conclusions drawn from the hearings, which MEP conducted with victims of surveillance, academics, stakeholders in the technology industry and representatives of civil society.