Hungarians protest over alleged government spying

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (AP) — Around 1,000 protesters in Hungary’s capital on Monday demanded answers to allegations that the country’s right-wing government used powerful spyware to secretly monitor critical journalists, lawyers and business figures.

The protest march, which departed from a building that housed the secret police of Hungary’s communist and fascist regimes in the 20th Century, came more than a week after a global investigation suggested that the digital devices of around 300 individuals had been targetted by the spyware in the Central European country — including at least 10 lawyers and five journalists.

“This scandal shows we cannot talk about the rule of law anymore in Hungary,” said a Hungarian lawmaker in the European Union’s (EU) legislature Anna Donath, who attended the demonstration. “Our demand is the resignation of the government.”

The Pegasus malware, produced by Israeli hacker-for-hire outfit NSO Group, infiltrates phones to collect personal data and location information, and can surreptitiously control the smartphone’s microphones and cameras. In the case of journalists, hackers can spy on reporters’ communications with sources.

Since the publication of the investigation’s results, Hungarian investigative journalism outlet Direkt36 released its findings that the president of the Hungarian Bar Association, a former state secretary and an opposition mayor were also targetted with the spyware.

Officials have declined to confirm or deny whether the government used the Pegasus software.

People hold banners during a protest against the government’s alleged use of powerful spyware to spy on opponents, Budapest, Hungary. PHOTO: AP