Greece: At a meeting with RSF, the government commits to ban the use of spyware

If the Greek authorities want to win back the trust of journalists, they must effectively protect them against arbitrary surveillance and bring justice for the 2021 assassination of Giorgos Karaivaz. At a meeting with Deputy Minister to the Prime Minister in Athens, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) made specific recommendations for the legal reform and for the probe into the murder.

"The gulf of mistrust between the Greek journalists and the authorities has widened further by the recent revelations of surveillance of reporters by the intelligence agency and with a spyware. If the authorities do not want the Greek democracy to come even closer to the abyss, those responsible for the arbitrary wiretapping of journalists must be brought to justice. Moreover, the new legal framework which the government pledged must be simultaneously ambitious and duly consulted with the main stakeholders: journalists.

Pavol Szalai
Head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk

The representative of RSF asked the Deputy Minister to the Prime Minister and Government Spokesperson, Ioannis Oikonomou, at their meeting on 10 October to open a dialogue on a comprehensive reform of the legal safeguards against arbitrary surveillance of journalists. He demanded that the minister discuss with the journalistic community RSF’s detailed recommendations aiming to remedy the lack of judicial oversight in cases of surveillance on national security grounds, the lack of guarantees against the abuse of surveillance, especially against the wiretapping of journalists, and the lack of a clear definition of “national security”. 

The arbitrary spying on Thanasis Koukakis, covering financial affairs, and Stavros Malichudis working on migration issues, by the National Intelligence Service (EYP) was made possible by the current legal framework. Its insufficiencies are further aggravated by the absence of specific safeguards against the illegitimate use of spyware. 

Replying to Pavol Szalai’s request to legislate on spywares, Ioannis Oikonomou promised at the meeting that the government “will soon propose a law to make the use of spyware illegal”, while repeating that the Greek authorities did not procure or use Predator. The spyware infected the phone and illegally breached the privacy of Thanasis Koukakis in addition to his surveillance by the EYP. According to the revelations of the Greek media, a company owned by the Prime Minister’s Secretary General - who has resigned since - had dealings with the firm selling Predator. But the ongoing criminal investigation and parliamentary inquiry into the surveillance has so far failed to shed more light on the attempt on press freedom. 

The Deputy Minister to the Prime Minister pledged to RSF that the government will continue its “ongoing initiatives” to establish additional checks on the operation of secret services. RSF believes that the most important step in this regard is repealing - with retroactive effect - the amendment preventing individuals from being informed under certain conditions about their past surveillance. Such change to the legislation would allow journalists to exercise their right to effective remedy. 

The amendment with retroactive effect, whose repealing RSF requests, was passed in March 2021. It prohibited the Hellenic Authority for Communication Security and Privacy (ADAE) to inform Thanasis Koukakis if he was under surveillance by the state. Although the government denies the journalist’s claim to ADAE was the reason for the amendment, it was voted shortly after Thanasis Koukakis seized the Authority. Trustworthy information about the wiretapping of both journalists later leaked to the press. 

On his mission to Greece, Pavol Szalai also discussed RSF’s recommendations with the ADAE President and former Council of State judge, Christos Rammos. “As I have already written together with my colleagues in an article 1, the amendment 2 - according to which the ADAE is absolutely prohibited from notifying the targeted persons the legal interception of their communications for national security reasons in the past - is contradictory to the relevant case-law of the European Court of Human Rights”, the Authority’s President said at the meeting with RSF on 11 October. He added that he is “in favor of improving the legal framework regulating the legal interception in Greece in order to guarantee better checks and balances in the whole procedure, and to achieve a more effective protection of the right to private life of the citizens enshrined in the constitution”.

The gap between the constitutional guarantee and the perception of its effectiveness by the journalists in Greece can be hardly bigger in a democracy. Journalists’ fear of mass surveillance and mistrust towards the authorities in charge of their protection has been demonstrated by a September open letter asking the European Parliament to check their phones for spyware. 

If the Greek authorities want to win back the trust of the journalists, they not only have to protect the media professionals against arbitrary surveillance and investigate its use, but also bring justice for the assassination of the crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz on 9 April 2021. Speaking at the journalistic conference “A Matter of Trust” organized in Athens by iMEdD, Pavol Szalai expressed RSF’s dismay that 18 months since his murder, no one was arrested for the crime and the investigation appeared blocked. After meeting the journalist’s wife and son, RSF’s representative asked the Deputy Prime Minister to invite Europol to help the Greek police with the probe. The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation has been helpful in the successful investigation of the killing of the journalist Jan Kuciak in Slovakia. In this country, in Malta and the Netherlands, suspects had already been detained or judged one year into the murder, leaving the lack of progress in Greece unmatched in the EU in the recent period.

    Greece, the only EU country concentrating in a short time span assassination of a journalist, arbitrary surveillance of reporters as well as other threats to their physical security and independence, is ranked in RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index last in the EU, on 108th place out of 180. 

     


     

    1. scientific article published on the website constitutionalism.gr by Christos Rammos, Aikaterina Papanicolaou and Stefanos Gritzalis
    2. article 87 of the law 4790/2021
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    108/180
    Score : 55.52
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