Greek parliament approves spy operations reforms
Greece’s parliament on Friday passed a bill reforming the country’s intelligence service (EYP) and banning the sale of spyware as the government tries to mitigate the impact of a phone tapping scandal still under investigation.
Τhe bill was approved only by the ruling Conservatives (156 votes) in a roll-call vote while all parties of the opposition voted against it (142 votes). The request for a roll-call vote was made by main opposition SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance, PASOK-KINAL and the Communist Party of Greece.
The case has turned up the heat on the conservative government that faces elections in 2023. It emerged in August when Nikos Androulakis, leader of the socialist PASOK party, Greece’s third-largest, said that EYP listened to his converstations in 2021.
A few days earlier, he filed a complaint with prosecutors over an attempted bugging of his mobile phone with surveillance software.
The bill criminalises the sale or possession of spyware and makes the private use of spyware a felony from a misdemeanour, punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. It also sets up an academy of counter intelligence for the training of EYP staff and a unit to investigate cases of breach of duty.
Only EYP and the anti-terrorism unit can request a prosecutor’s approval to monitor people over a range of crimes specified under the bill and a second prosecutor must sign the request.
Politicians can only be monitored for national security reasons and the parliament’s speaker must also approve such requests. Those affected can be informed about the surveillance three years later, if prosecutors allow it.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called the bill a “brave institutional response” to a challenge that goes beyond Greece.
Mitsotakis, who brought EYP under his control after taking office in 2019, has apologised to Androulakis, saying the EYP operation was politically unacceptable despite being legal and that he was unaware of it.
Wrapping up the two-day plenary debate, Justice Minister Kostas Tsiaras pointed out that the bill’s aim is “to resolve a great institutional gap that was highlighted after the revelation of the intrusion of the phone of PASOK-KINAL leader Nikos Androulakis.”
Before the vote, PASOK accused the government of seeking accomplices by asking the opposition to approve the bill.
“The case is not closed, it is and will remain open until the truth is revealed,” party representative Michael Katrinis told parliament.
The government announced its plan to ban the sale of spyware last month, after leftist newspaper Documento reported that more than 30 people, including ministers, had been under state surveillance via phone malware.
The government has denied any involvement in the case.