Senior Hungarian Official Admits Government Purchased Pegasus Spyware

BUDAPEST — A senior member of Hungary’s ruling party has confirmed for the first time that the government bought spyware that was allegedly used to monitor journalists, lawyers, businessmen and opposition figures. in dozens of countries around the world.

Lajos Kosa, Chairman of the Parliamentary Defense and Law Enforcement Committee, told reporters on November 4, after a closed session, the Ministry of the Interior purchased the Pegasus software produced by the Israeli group NSO.

The company became the center of controversy after an international media consortium reported in July that its Pegasus spyware had been used in attempts to hack into smartphones belonging to journalists, human rights activists, business leaders and civil servants in some fifty countries.

Hungary was named in reports as one of the countries trying to infiltrate the digital devices of a number of targets, trigger protests in Budapest.

Smartphones infected with Pegasus allow operators to record phone calls, access text messages, photos, emails and passwords, track GPS data and covertly activate microphones and cameras .

Kosa, a member of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party, said that in all cases of surveillance, authorities act lawfully after receiving permission from a judge or the justice ministry.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto previously denied knowledge of such data collection, joining other ruling party members in dismissing allegations that the government was illegally spying on citizens.

Opposition lawmakers are demanding an investigation into the use of Pegasus. They complain that the findings of two special commissions looking into the case have been shelved by the ruling party until 2050.

The Hungarian government is at odds with many other member states of the European Union on issues concerning the rule of law and democracy.

The admission comes a day after the United States blacklisted NSO Group, claiming its software was behind “transnational repression” by some foreign governments.

With report by AP and ATV

Laura T. Thrasher