Greece’s new surveillance bill is problematic: Human Rights Watch

Parliament should make sure that draft law is paused if government fails to do so, says senior researcher.

Greece’s new surveillance bill is problematic: Human Rights Watch

Greece's new draft bill envisioning reforms on its secret services lacks effective privacy and human rights safeguards, Human Rights Watch said in a report on Thursday.

In the wake of the wiretapping scandal that has shaken Greek politics and placed Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis under the microscope, the government is still trying to pass a bill that is problematic.

“If the government won’t press pause on this risky bill, parliament should,” said Eva Cosse, senior Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Cosse claimed that the draft bill to reform the Greek National Intelligence Service (EYP) is a flawed attempt to respond to the wiretapping scandal furor.

“Without proper safeguards and a clear understanding of what went wrong, a new surveillance law will only make things worse,” Cosse said.

The draft law is scheduled to be debated and voted in parliament Friday.

In November 2021, it was revealed that Greece’s secret service (EYP) was spying on freelance journalist Stavros Malichoudis, while in April 2022 another freelance journalist investigating banking and business news Thanasis Koukakis had his mobile phone infected by the Predator spyware.

Earlier this year in August, another revelation came to surface alleging an attempt was made to hack the mobile phone of Nikos Androulakis, the leader of the opposition party PASOK and member of the European Parliament, with the Predator spyware.

Invasion of privacy

It was the beginning of a political turmoil following resignations and a growing list of targets including journalists, politicians, entrepreneurs, members of the government, and judicial officials who have reportedly also been targeted by Predator, according to the investigative media outlet Documento, the watchdog said.

The country’s national authorities have been accused of being complicit in the surveillance, it added.

Despite that, the government denied the allegations and an inquiry into the scandal opened in September. The government blocked witnesses proposed by opposition parties, including journalists whose phones had been wiretapped.

Additionally, the government decided that all inquiry meetings would be held behind closed doors and remain confidential along with the committee’s concluding report, raising transparency concerns, Human Rights Watch said.

Two independent public bodies, the Hellenic Authority for Communication Security and Privacy (ADAE), which oversees surveillance powers, and the Data Protection Authority, which oversees the use of personal data, criticized the government for failing to consult them regarding the bill, Human Rights Watch said.

The watchdog reported that up until March 2021, a person under government surveillance for national security reasons could file a request with ADAE for information about themselves. ADAE, however, could provide that information once those measures were not in effect and would not compromise the purpose of the investigation.

At the end of March 2021, an amendment was adopted making it impossible for someone to request information.

The new draft bill will reintroduce access to such information, but only three years after the end of the monitoring, and without being informed of the content of the surveillance.

This would hamper a victim from collecting evidence about their surveillance and challenging it in court on the basis that it is illegal, abusive, or disproportionate, the watchdog added.

The parliament should withdraw the bill Cosse said in the report, until there has been a meaningful consultation with ADAE, civil society, privacy rights experts, while a new parliamentary inquiry should open into whether and how Greek intelligence agencies procured and used spyware to violate privacy and other human rights.