Greece is currently embroiled in a wiretapping crisis with the disclosure that Nikos Androulakis, an opposition politician, was monitored in 2021. Androulakis, the head of the center-left Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) party, is being investigated for being surveilled, and the national intelligence service and the ruling right-wing government are both involved. This scandal comes at a crucial time when there are elections in the country in the next year and this act can harm Athens’s relations with the European Union.
Unfolding of the event
The European Parliament alerted Androulakis of the attempt to tap his phone using the surveillance program Predator at the end of July during a normal cybersecurity check. The spyware was finally unable to bug Androulakis’s phone, but Greece’s National Intelligence Service (EYP) had been monitoring him from September 2021 until December 13, 2021, when he was (Al-Jazeera, 2022) chosen to lead PASOK, according to an investigation into the incident.
When questioned PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis was forced to concede. He asserted that all operations were legal and denied knowing about it. This also comes at a time when several Greek journalists have accused the government of using the North Macedonian spyware Predator which is similar to the Israeli software Pegasus. The EYP has refused to provide records of surveillance which would deny the allegations being put on it by the journalists and the European Parliament. What is interesting to note is that EYP is an uncontrollable state agency whose officials know that they will not be held accountable for their actions (Al-Jazeera, 2022)and this adds to more suspicion.
Another astonishing fact is that after these allegations have been put forward, two officials: Head of Intelligence Service Panagiotis Kontoleon and Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Grigoris Dimitriadis have resigned and no official reason for their resignation has been put forward yet. PM Mitostakis says that the resignation is not an admission of guilt. Dimitrious Kalidis who is a politician in the ruling New Democracy said that revealing the reason behind the surveillance would violate the existing laws. Journalist Thanasis Koukakis also claims that an independent analysis conducted by CitizenLab did find traces of Predator software on his phone. This claim was accepted by EPY but they denied the usage of Predator. Nikos Androulakis also made a similar claim, where he said that an independent analysis did find the usage of Predator software on his phone prompting him to take this matter to the supreme court of Greece.
In response to all this and the demand by Greece President Ketrina Sakellaropoulou, PM Mitsotakis called for an investigation into this matter. Eye witnesses like Kontoleon and Dimitriadis did not cooperate in the investigation and rather sighted confidentiality as the reason for not participating, coupled with the various parties which were involved in the investigation not coming to a consensus on any findings only goes to show that the government tried to coverup their wrongdoings by speeding up the investigation. In the end PM Mitostakis blamed the dark forces outside the country for destabilizing the country while opposition parties like Syriza and POASK feel that the investigation was botched.
EU and the scandal
The scandal is no longer an internal matter. With the victim Nikos Androulakis who was wiretapped was a member of the European Parliament and this whole scandal was uncovered by the European Parliament the matter has now blown up to a world stage. These actions have violated the EU data protection law and has violated EU’s stance against the use of spyware.
Ioannis Vrailas, Greece’s Permanent Representative to the EU, observed on August 2 that it was “very disputed” if any of the issues mentioned by Brussels was under the purview of the EU in response to a letter from the European Commission requesting information concerning the surveillance. Since the issue was under the purview of the EU, a fact-finding delegation did arrive in Athens to investigate into the matter. This is a part of the European Parliament’s broader investigation into the misuse of spyware by EU governments, a task that Brussels has taken seriously enough to appoint a special committee to handle.
Even though European commission was satisfied with the response from Athens it still feels that the disrespect of the EU law and the case law of the European Court of Justice was wrong and our currently looking forward to the findings of the delegation sent by Brussels to act on this issue.
Implications of this action
There are several implications of this scandal.
The first is the ban of sale of spyware by Athens. On December 11 the Greek parliament did ban the sale of commercial spyware software, if found selling or distributing there will be a minimum 2-year prison sentence.
The second is implication of these actions on Athens’s relations with European Union. Since the actions of EPY have violated European Union’s guidelines on usage of spyware and data protection these actions can severely harm relationships between Greece and the EU which can result in Greece being thrown out from the EU or strict penalties being imposed on it.
Third, this action can also harm the democratic framework in Greece, since the new revelations not only includes Nikos Androulakis of PASOK but other politicians from New Democratic Party along with their wives, prominent journalists, big businessmen and those politicians who were eyeing the leadership of New Democratic Party or were in prominent positions in the current government like the present foreign minister Nikos Dendias who possessed a threat to PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis. This scandal can seriously affect the democratic framework in Greece as it calls for resignation of PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis. The opposition has already started demanding for his resignation due to the EYP being under his control and the shady actions of his Chief of Staff and Head of Intelligence Service and the new revelations which have come to light. Since the PM denies of any involvement in this scandal therefore a tussle has started between the opposition parties and him which can take the shape of a civil war.
Fourth, if the fact-finding team does find conclusive evidence of EPY using spyware then it can lead to Greece being kicked out of the European Union. If this happens then the economic burden which has been looming over Greece since 2008 economic crisis would intensify as the special aid and development which Greece enjoys apart from the European market access will also be taken away further crippling the Greek economy.
Fifth, this will also prompt EU which does not have a legal guideline on the usage of spyware technology yet will be prompted to draft a policy on the same therefore eliminating any scope for such activities in the future.
With the elections scheduled to take place next year PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis will try to make sure his current term ends naturally rather than him being asked to resign. But with the recent developments and the shady investigation done by the Greek authorities both the opposition parties and European Union look towards the fact-finding committee’s report on this issue for any further action against him. With more and revelations taking place each day it is going to be interesting what finally happens. But one thing is for sure both PM Mitsotakis and his New Democratic Party will have a tough time in the next year’s election.