BUDAPEST -- A top official in Hungary's governing party has confirmed for the first time that the government had bought spyware that was allegedly used to monitor journalists, lawyers, businesspeople, and opposition figures in dozens of countries around the world.
Lajos Kosa, the chairman of the parliament's Committee on Defense and Law Enforcement, told journalists on November 4 following a closed committee session that the Interior Ministry had bought Pegasus software produced by Israel’s NSO Group.
The company became the center of controversy after an international media consortium reported in July that its Pegasus spyware was used in attempts to hack smartphones belonging to journalists, human rights activists, business executives, and officials in some 50 countries.
Smartphones infected with Pegasus enable operators to record phone calls, access text messages, photos, e-mails, and passwords, track GPS data, and secretly activate microphones and cameras.
Kosa, a member of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party, said that in all cases of surveillance authorities acted legally after receiving the permission of a judge or the Justice Ministry.
Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto had previously denied knowing about such data collection, joining other ruling party members in dismissing allegations that the government illegally spied on citizens.
Opposition lawmakers are demanding a probe into the use of Pegasus. They complain that the findings of two special committee sessions examining the case have been classified by the governing party until 2050.
Hungary's government is at odds with many other European Union member states over issues regarding the rule of law and democracy.
The admission comes a day after the United States put the NSO Group on a trade blacklist, saying its software was behind the “transnational repression” carried out by some foreign governments.