Greece: The government’s silence about new revelations in the surveillance scandal is deafening
Information about tracking of three Greek journalists investigating the use of spyware emerges as members of the European Parliament start an inquiry in Athens. In order to inspire a change of the legal framework for surveillance, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) publishes the recommendations it submitted to the government.
“The silence of the Greek authorities about the new cases of journalists under surveillance - which have shaken the international journalistic community - is deafening. The government must urgently explain the reasons behind the alleged state monitoring of Tasos Telloglou and his other colleagues investigating Predatorgate, and announce specific measures for a better protection against arbitrary espionage. We ask the authorities nothing more than to fulfill their own promises and fully cooperate - in the spirit of their European commitments - with the European Parliament’s Inquiry Committee currently on a mission in Athens.
New revelations about surveillance of journalists in Greece emerged on the eve of the Athens visit of the members of the European parliament inquiring on the use of spyware. Despite regularly paying lip service to the European initiatives in favor of press freedom, the Prime Minister refused to meet the delegation which will be in Greece from 2 to 4 November 2022. This week’s International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists has not changed anything about it, nor has it convinced the government to propose systemic measures to protect journalists against arbitrary surveillance and shed light on the new information in the eavesdropping affair.
According to his own article from 24 October 2022, the Greek investigative journalist Tasos Telloglou was under surveillance between May and August 2022. He was allegedly tailed by unknown individuals who also attempted to access his car, while he was himself investigating the surveillance scandal Predatorgate for the independent media Inside Story. One of Tasos Telloglou’s sources sent him a picture of himself at a meeting with the journalist Thanasis Koukakis who previously fell victim to both the Predator spyware and surveillance by the National Intelligence Service (EYP). But this is not all. Tasos Telloglou claims that his colleagues who also worked on the spying affair, Eliza Triantafillou from Inside Story and Thodoris Chondrogiannos from Reporters United, were being tracked via their cell phone signals.
RSF has asked EYP and the Deputy Minister to the Prime Minister and Government Spokesperson, Ioannis Oikonomou, for a statement, but has so far received no reply.
In the wake of the August revelation that the chairman of the opposition party Pasok-Kinal, Nikos Androulakis, was also wiretapped with Predator, the head of the EYP and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff who oversaw the secret service, Grigoris Dimitriadis, stepped down. Yet, the authorities have repeatedly denied the procurement or use of the Predator spyware. Moreover, Mr. Grigoris Dimitriadis has launched abusive lawsuits against the media which reported on the scandal, prompting the jury of the European SLAPP contest - organized by a group of NGOs including RSF - to declare him on 20 October 2022 “the SLAPP politician of the year 2022”.
Full justice for journalists - victims of arbitrary surveillance is yet to be served. The ongoing criminal investigation based on the complaints of journalists Thanasis Koukakis and Stavros Malichudis has so far yielded no results.
Given the vulnerability of the Greek surveillance framework to abuse by political and private interests, RSF has drafted recommendations to better protect journalists against arbitrary surveillance. Its representative submitted the proposals for legislative amendments - prepared with the help of Greek experts and journalists - to the Government Spokesperson at a meeting on 10 October 2022, asking him to further discuss them with the Greek journalistic community. Ioannis Oikonomou promised during the discussion with RSF that the government “will soon propose a law to make the use of spyware illegal” and to continue its “ongoing initiatives” to establish additional checks on the operation of secret services.
In order to subject the recommendations to a wider public debate and to gain stronger public support for them, RSF has decided to publish them. The document provides possible remedies to the five main gaps of the Greek legal system for surveillance: the lack of judicial oversight in cases of surveillance operated on national security grounds; the lack of safeguards against the abuse of surveillance; the lack of specific safeguards against the surveillance of journalists; the lack of sufficient legal framework on the use of spyware; and the vague definition of national security.
Greece is ranked 108th in RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index, the last country in the EU.