Nikolaos Stelgias

Nikolaos Stelgias

Greek Prime Minister "stars" in spyware scandal

Mitsotakis attempts to contain the surveillance scandal with prohibitions and a new law for the country's spy service

The wiretapping scandal strikes Kyriakos Mitsotakis's administration just a few months before the parliamentary elections. Greece has been dealing with revelations of unauthorized surveillance since mid-summer. According to revelations by the opposition press, the national intelligence service (EYP) allegedly assisted the conservative government in listening to the phone conversations of the opposition, the media, and influential members of the New Democracy ruling party.

The Greek prime Minister vehemently denied the claims. According to him, accusations such as the one that claimed that he is keeping tabs on his government's foreign minister are ludicrous. Mitsotakis does not only deny the allegations concerning his person and his work, but he also proceeded with bringing radical changes to EYP. In this manner, the Greek Prime Minister hopes to put this significant scandal behind him and concentrate on the upcoming elections.

Meanwhile, analysts in Athens make clear that they are not convinced by Mitsotakis government’s actions or their statements. In this vein, government-aligned columnists are urging the prime Minister to admit the seriousness of the new scandal, while opposition columnists are displaying harsher criticisms of the government.

The Mitsotakis government's response to the scandal

In the face of mounting criticism, the Mitsotakis government is taking important decisions that are affecting both EYP’s operating mode and the status of fundamental human rights in Greece. According to recently gathered information, Greece has been importing spyware technology in recent years, primarily with the assistance of Cyprus. According to a recent announcement by Greece's conservative government, spyware sales will soon be prohibited. The Mitsotakis administration also drafted a bill that fundamentally alters how EYP operates.

The government's latest actions are taking center stage while the clamor caused by these recent revelations by an opposition outlet is still ongoing. Left-wing newspaper Documento published a list of people whose phones were allegedly infected with the Predator spyware. The list is said to contain the names of more than 30 people including ministers and entrepreneurs, who were being tracked by the government via phone spyware. The newspaper cites two sources who purportedly worked for the government and were involved in the spying.

The Documento report was the most recent development in the wiretapping scandal that has riled up the Greek political establishment whilst the European Union is looking more closely at the usage and distribution of spyware. Until now, most of the claimed targets, including the current foreign and finance ministers and a former conservative prime minister, either declined to comment or stated that they were unaware of the situation. In July, Nikos Androulakis, the leader of the socialist opposition, filed a complaint about an effort to bug his phone using spy software. Also earlier this year, a Greek prosecutor was looking into claims made by a journalist that the Greek intelligence service used his smartphone to install spying software.

In response to these grave accusations, Mitsotakis’ government prepares a new law for the EYP that forbids selling spyware. Moreover, the EYP is creating an internal audit unit to investigate corruption and dereliction of duty. The draft law states that going forward, only a diplomat or a senior retired officer may be named EYP Commander, and only public officials may be appointed as deputy commanders. The new law sets a unique process for lifting confidentiality and clearly defines the term "national security." Additionally, it outlaws the ownership and sale of spyware. Finally, it standardizes the process for erasing privacy-related files.

Mr. Mitsotakis, was it worth it?

Both the revelations about the surveillance scandal and the initiative taken by the Mitsotakis government are causing great upheaval in the political scene of Athens. Greek analysts and columnists agree that the government must provide convincing answers to critical questions and assure public opinion about the safeguarding of fundamental constitutional freedoms. The same view is also held by columnists from the pro-government press.

"I do not question the noble intentions of the Minister of Justice who wants to close the country's borders to the demonic software Predator, on which our future, if some are to be believed, depends on. I would just like him to give us more detailed explanations as to what weapons he intends to use. According to him, Greece will be the first country in the world to ban illegal 'software'. How do you ban something that is already illegal?", asks Takis Theodoropoulos in his column in the pro-government newspaper "Kathimerini".

Theodoropoulos continues, "If I've got this right, prohibiting unauthorized software creates several technological issues. They claim that the spyware does not carry a bag full of wires, plugs, and other necessary instruments for its job, nor does it wear a trench coat or a hat and sunglasses at night. As a result, if it sneaks into an airport, you will have trouble identifying it".

After acknowledging the different difficulties in managing spyware, the columnist concludes: "Anything is possible if there is political will. Even illegality can be prohibited. Of course, judging by the people being watched, I question whether such an outing was worthwhile. Most of them are employees of the government or those who work in the nearby office. Why spend $7,000,000 on software that might be outlawed? Less money is spent using conventional techniques. You hire individuals to keep an ear at the office door and report to you on what they hear. The keyhole is another feature. This way you avoid using potentially banned unlawful software."

"Mr. Mitsotakis compromises Greece's national security."

The former Greek Foreign Minister and prominent member of the opposition, Giorgos Katrougalos, emphasizes that "the surveillance of the foreign minister has been confirmed by the cross-checked findings of numerous publications over the weekend, not only in opposition newspapers but also in traditional government media, while, according to (the newspaper) 'To Vima,' it has caused uproar in many diplomatic representations and secret services of foreign countries."

In his criticism of the Mitsotakis administration, Katrougalos further states that the new development, combined with the Deputy Foreign Minister's parallel surveillance, "raises concern for national security." All the Minister's conversations with the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense, and his counterparts in councils where the principle of meeting confidentiality applies must be regarded as compromised, due to the nature of the Predator surveillance as the tool enables the microphone and camera on the monitored person's phone to be activated at will.

The former foreign Minister adds, "I won't go into detail about the risks involved, such as the potential for state secrets to be made public and the potential repercussions of breaching the confidentiality of bilateral or multilateral negotiations. Mr. Mitsotakis is not only harmful to democracy and parliamentarism but also clearly bears responsibility for the surveillance carried out by his close friends and attempts to hide it. He now compromises the nation's security."

*Dr Nikolaos Stelgias was born in Istanbul. He is an independent researcher, writer, historian and journalist. His doctorate is in the field of the modern Turkish political system (Panteion University, 2011). His latest book “The Ailing Turkish Democracy” was published by the Cambridge Scholars Publication in 2020. Dr. Stelgias was a correspondent of the newspaper "Kathimerini (Cyprus edition)" for Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community from 2009 to 2021. Currently, Dr. Stelgias works at the Cyprus News Agency. Dr. Stelgias publishes in Turkish news articles and analyses on Cyprus and Greece.

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