Pegasus surveillance scandal: Hungarian ministers point fingers at each other

July 21. 2021. – 07:45 PM



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Before Wednesday's cabinet meeting, we tried once more to get answers from members of the Hungarian government about the Pegasus surveillance scandal.

In an unexpected turn of events, Minister of Justice Judit Varga claimed that she is not in charge of covert data-gathering operations, as her undersecretary, Pál Völner is responsible for signing requests from secret services. The Minister of Interior Affairs sent us to the Chairman of the National Security Community, János Stummer, an MP of opposition party Jobbik. The Minister for Innovation and Technology denies that Pegasus is a spyware, and National Wealth Minister Andrea Mager says the real surveillant is former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány.

This video has English subtitles, if you cannot see them, turn them on in the video settings. Speaking, in order of appearance: Levente Magyar, Undersecretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Judit Varga, Minister of Justice; László Palkovics, Minister of Innovation and Technology; Andrea Mager, Minister without Portfolio for National Wealth; Bence Tuzson, Undersecretary for Government Communication; Sándor Pintér, Minister of Interior Affairs; Miklós Kásler, Minister of Human Capacities.

What is the Pegasus surveillance scandal?

The nonprofit journalism organization Forbidden Stories and advocacy group Amnesty International has obtained a leaked list of approximately 50,000 phone numbers from around the world that were targeted by Pegasus, a spyware developed by the Israeli cybersecurity firm NSO Group, capable of accessing nearly all data stored on smartphones. Forbidden Stories has shared this list of potential targets with 16 media outlets covering the story, including Direkt36, Telex's investigative reporting partner. The first articles appeared last Sunday worldwide.

Pegasus, originally intended as a tool against criminals and terrorists, had been used for surveilling reporters, activists, and politicians in several countries. According to NSO, who deny allegations of their software's misuse, Pegasus was only sold to governments and state agencies.

The investigative team has found 300 Hungarian phone numbers on the list of potential targets, and Direkt36 has revealed that the spyware was employed against several critics of the Hungarian government including reporters, a media owner, and the son and lawyer of former oligarch Lajos Simicska, among others. Despite client-attorney privilege, not even lawyers were spared: one potential target was János Bánáti, the head of the Hungarian Bar Association. You can find all our English articles on the topic here.

The translation of this article was made possible by our cooperation with the Heinrich Böll Foundation.