The mayor of Polish town Sopot has allegedly been monitored by the country’s security services using controversial spyware Pegasus. Jacek Karnowski, who opposes the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party in Poland, saw his devices accessed in what is the latest in a string of surveillance scandals apparently carried out by the Polish security services at the behest of the government. It denies any wrongdoing.
Polish daily newspaper Gazeta Wynorcza reported today that Karnowski’s details were found on a list of monitored individuals made available to several media outlets.
Polish mayor hacked using Pegasus spyware
According to the paper, Mayor Karnowski’s devices were tapped between ten and 20 times between 2018 and 2019, when he was working for the opposition party in the Polish Senate, the country’s upper house of parliament.
“This is a violation of privacy and human dignity,” Karnowski told the Polish daily, in response to the revelations. “Those who monitored their political opponents should be brought before the Tribunal of the State.”
Karnowski is currently head of a coalition of Polish mayors which reportedly plans to oppose PiS in upcoming parliamentary elections, due to take place in the autumn.
He is one of many politicians with links to the opposition Civic Platform Party who were allegedly spied on in the run-up to the previous elections, in 2019. Opposition senator Kryzsztof Brejza’s phone was hacked, along with outspoken prosecutor Ewa Wrosek and Roman Giertych, a lawyer who was representing senior leaders of Brejza’s party.
PiS has consistently denied any involvement. At the time, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki dismissed the claims as “fake news”, though he later admitted that Poland had bought Pegasus. Forensic analysis of Brejza’s device showed it had been compromised many times in 2019. He told a commission set up to investigate the accusations that the attacks “coincided 100% with the election calendar.”
NSO’s Pegasus spyware attracts more negative headlines
Pegasus has attracted controversy after multiple investigations demonstrated it has been used by authoritarian regimes around the world to spy on journalists, activists and opponents. However, such use is not authorised by the NSO Group, which makes the software, and in 2021 it withdrew the right to use Pegasus from the Polish government.
NSO was blacklisted by the US in the same year after the Biden administration determined that the Israeli company had acted “contrary to the foreign policy and national security interests of the US”.
As the Pegasus scandal grows in Poland, its government is now trying to push through a surveillance bill that would compel tech companies to hand over emails and social media messages stored on their servers to government agents.
The bill would also give exceptional privileges to the president of the Office of Electronic Communications, which would be able to block communication deemed dangerous to the state within six hours. “During the election campaign, they can simply block our communications,” Civic Coalition MP Grzegorz Napieralski said during a parliamentary debate on the legislation.
Poland’s government says the bill is necessary for security reasons.