Greek and European authorities must take urgent action after many more journalists said to have been Predator targets
With no fewer than 13 Greek journalists now said to have been targeted by the spyware Predator, which has been reportedly acquired by the Greek intelligence services, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Greek authorities to quickly carry out an independent investigation into this arbitrary surveillance and calls on European institutions to impose a moratorium on the use of spyware.
“The shocking revelations about the arbitrary use of spyware against journalists by the Greek intelligence services is a stain on the country’s democracy. The Greek authorities must conduct a thorough and independent investigation into this arbitrary surveillance as soon as possible in cooperation with Europol.
“As the national authorities are suspected of being complicit in the surveillance and have been slow to react, the European Union needs to take swift and firm action to put an end to the use of spyware against journalists. To this end, we call for a moratorium on the sale, transfer, export and use of cyber-surveillance technology. We welcome the initial draft of the report by MEPs who are investigating the use of spyware, which proposes such a moratorium.
According to a report published on 15 November by the Greek investigative news website Inside Story, Greece’s National Intelligence Service (EYP) bought Predator for an initial 7 million euros followed by monthly payments of 150,000 euros for ten alternating targets. This purchase was concealed within another contract signed by the EYP. The software was reportedly installed on computers in a state-owned building in Agia Paraskevi, a small town in the northeastern outskirts of Athens.
Government spokesman Ioannis Oikonomou said an investigation into the use of the spyware“has already been started by the Greek justice, with the assistance of the public authorities.” But this investigation, like the parliamentary one, has not been carried out in a rigorous manner. And it is regrettable that the government has been threatening journalists – the only people who have so far helped to shed light on Greece’s use of Predator – by threatening “to punish both those involved and those who spread false and slanderous allegations.”
The Greek government has undertaken – to RSF and others – to amend the legislation regulating surveillance and to even ban spyware altogether. Minister of State George Gerapetridis – who ironically was himself targeted by Predator, according to Documento – promised on 3 October, during the visit by MEPs who are investigating the case, to present a draft law within two weeks.
RSF notes that the draft law that was finally published on 15 November regretfully seems to allow a person who was under surveillance in the past to be informed only three years afterwards. However, RSF will conduct an analysis of the draft in the light of its own recent recommendations for Greece’s surveillance legislation.
13 journalist of all kind of media outlets have been targeted
The use of cyber-surveillance technology to spy on journalists is clearly a major problem in Greece. No fewer than 13 journalists are now reported to have been Predator targets. As well as Thanasis Koukakis, the investigative journalist whose case was revealed in the summer, Documento has reported the surveillance of 12 other journalists in its 6 November and 13 November issues. As successive journalistic investigations tighten the vice in which Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is now trapped, it has become clear the surveillance of journalists has been taking place on an unprecedented scale and many have been affected.
Journalists working for media of various types and editorial policies have been targeted. For example, the targets have included Alexis Papachelas, the director of the well-known centre-right newspaper Kathimerini, and Antonis Dellatolas, a journalist of the satirical newspaper To Pontiki.
They have also included Eva Antonopoulou, a star presenter for the national TV channel SKAI, who was almost certainly targeted in order to get information about her husband, who was coordinating management of the Covid-19 pandemic in Greece. Spyros Sideris, a journalist who covers international politics for EURACTIV.gr and iEidiseis, has filed a complaint about the spying to which he was subjected, following the example previously set by Koukakis.
Some of the journalists who were victims of this complex surveillance network were clearly targeted with the aim of getting information about one of their contacts. This was the case with Yannis Kourtakis, the publisher of the newspaper Parapolitika, who was spied on because of his presumed closeness with Evangelos Marinakis, a businessman who, inter alia, owns the newspapers Ta Nea and To Vima.
Greece is ranked 108th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2022 World Press Freedom Index, the lowest position of any EU member.