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Polish leader admits government bought spyware

January 7, 2022

A senior official has admitted the government bought the controversial Pegasus spyware, but rejected claims it was used to monitor political opponents. The scandal has drawn comparisons to Watergate in the United States.

A smartphone with the website of the NSO Group
The Polish government has downplayed its use of the Pegasus softwareImage: JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images

A top Polish politician in the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) acknowledged Friday that the country had bought controversial Israeli Pegasus spyware.

Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said the spyware is used by nations around the world to tackle crime and corruption.

What did the Polish deputy PM say?

"It would be unfortunate if Poland's secret services were not equipped with such a surveillance tool," Kaczynski said in comments to Polish right-wing weekly magazine Sieci.

The Polish government has previously denied that it has used Pegasus spyware. 

The spyware can infiltrate cellphones, stealing data from the device and passing it to the attacker. The spyware is activated after the victim clicks a malicious link. 

At the same time, Kaczynski rebuked accusations that the Polish government used the Pegasus spyware to monitor the political opposition.

"But I can only emphasize: The opposition's stories that Pegasus was used for political purposes is nonsense," he said.

Polish Senator Krzysztof Brejza, a member of the opposition
Polish Senator Krzysztof Brejza is one of reported targets of Pegasus spywareImage: Rafa³ Guz/PAP//picture alliance

Spyware reportedly used on prominent Polish senator

The University of Toronto's Citizen Lab internet watchdog has found that the spyware has been used to spy on three critics of the Polish government. One of the targets was reportedly Krzysztof Brejza, a member of the Polish Senate whose phone was hacked multiple times ahead of parliamentary elections in 2019.

At the time, Brejza was tasked with running the Polish opposition's parliamentary campaign. He has accused the government of cheating in the election, as hacking his phone means the ruling PiS could have insight into the campaign strategies of the opposition.

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International on Thursday verified the allegations that Brezja's phone was hacked. 

A 2021 report found that Pegasus spyware has been used by Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Azerbaijan and other countries to spy on journalists, activists and politicians. The spyware was developed by the Israeli NSO group. 

The hacking revelations in Poland have drawn comparison to the Watergate scandal in the US in the 1970s. Polish opposition leader Donald Tusk has called for a parliamentary inquiry into the government's use of Pegasus.

The spyware allegations are the latest scandal for the ruling PiS party, which has also been recently criticized over a controversial media law. The Polish government has also faced criticism from the EU over its judicial system.

5 basic steps to protect yourself online

wd/sms (AP, Reuters, dpa)