Polish senators interview cyber experts in hack probe

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A Polish Senate committee has opened an investigation into the use of powerful spyware against government critics after hearing testimony Monday from cybersecurity experts, who compared the targeting of government figures opposition under the right-wing government to the methods used by the Kremlin against criticism in Russia.

John Scott-Railton and Bill Marczak, principal investigators of Citizen Lab, a research group based at the University of Toronto, told the seven-member committee that they were able to confirm that data had been stolen from the phone of a Polish senator, Krzysztof Brejza. . This added to their reports in late December that Brejza and two others – a Polish lawyer and a prosecutor – were aggressively hacked with Pegasus, spyware produced by Israeli group NSO.

The revelations shocked many Poles because Pegasus is a tool meant to be used by governments to fight terrorists and other dangerous criminals. Many consider it a human rights violation to use it against domestic opponents who criticize the government but pose no danger to society.

In Brejza’s case, his phone was hacked several times in 2019, mainly when he was campaigning for the opposition. His phone messages were doctored and used in a smear campaign against him in the heat of the battle, which the right-wing ruling Law and Justice party narrowly won.

Speaking via video link, the two experts also confirmed to the committee that an operator began registering Pegasus infrastructure in November 2017, just a month or two after Polish media established that the contract with the government Polish had been finalized.

The Law and Justice party has rejected opposition calls for an investigation into the hack of the lower house of parliament, or Sejm.

In response, the Senate, where the opposition has a narrow majority, approved the formation of a committee to investigate evidence that the three government critics were hacked with the spyware. Senator Marcin Bosacki, chairman of the committee, said the move was necessary “due to the deepest concern for our democracy and the future of the Polish state”.

Bosacki said one of the goals of the investigation will be to determine whether the hacking of Brejza’s phone changed the outcome of the 2019 election, arguing that a state in which the secret service has influence over the electoral process ceases. to be a democracy.

Yet only the Sejm, whose roles include government oversight, can launch an investigation with full investigative powers, including summoning witnesses. The Senate can invite witnesses, but not compel them to appear. Law and Justice senators voted against the establishment of the committee and refused to accept the seats offered to them.

Bosacki concluded Monday’s two-hour questioning of the two witnesses by saying it was a good start in clarifying the “aggressive” use of Pegasus technology against a senator and two others.

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