Hungarian reporter: I was surveilled by my government via Israeli software

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It is “sad” and “infuriating” that Hungary has used software, which an Israeli company developed for surveilling terrorists and criminals, to spy on journalists, one of the targets of the surveillance scandal, investigative journalist Szabolcs Panyi, told N1.

Panyi explained that a consortium of journalists obtained a leak of 50,000 phone numbers that clients of Israel’s NSO Group used against people they intended to target.

“Among those 50,000 numbers, we identified almost 200 journalists and, unfortunately, I was among them,” Panyi said.

He said that the topics he mostly covers are “diplomacy, foreign policy, corruption and national security-related stories in Hungary.”

“I am an investigative journalist, so I usually have confidential sources who leak government documents to me or give me sensitive information about how the government is conducting its foreign policy with China, with Russia, with the United States,” he explained.

“It seems that I was working on such interesting topics that some agency in Hungary tried to surveil me,” he said, adding that a forensic analysis of his phone showed that he was being surveilled for more than seven months.

The Pegasus software is meant to be used against terrorists and serious criminals, he explained.

“I don’t consider myself any of those. I am a very basic, normal guy who happens to be a journalist. So it’s infuriating and it outrages me that I was selected as a target for this surveillance,” he said.

Panyi said the first thing he did when he gained access to the database was type in the numbers of his family members and girlfriend at the time.

“Fortunately, they were not in this database,” he said.

The Pegasus software is expensive and surveilling one person costs “multiple tens of thousands of dollars,” he explained.

Panyi said that two of the targets were media company owners.

“In one case, his name is Zoltan Varga, the owner of Hungary’s largest independent news company. He had a meeting with his friends, seven of them in total, and we see each of their phone numbers in this database,” he said.

The phone of one of these people was hacked, Panyi said, explaining that “through that phone, whoever conducted the surveillance could have recorded the whole conversation.”

The other case refers to “a former oligarch who was an enemy of Victor Orban at that time,” and also owned a media empire.
This target did not use a smartphone and “Pegasus is useless against old phones,” Panyi said.

However, his son and lawyer were found among the numbers in the database.

More about the investigation, as well as the overall media situation in Hungary and the world, can be heard in the full interview linked above.

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