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Security Brief: Behavior/ Leadership Week of July 26, 2021

Week of Monday, July 26, 2021 | Issue 43

Vivien Popper, Beatriz Adell Quesada, Behavior/Leadership (B/L) Team

Data Security[1]


Date: July 26, 2021

Location: Budapest, Hungary

Parties involved: Hungary; Prime Minister Viktor Orbán; The NSO (Niv, Shalev, and Omri) Group

The event: On Monday, July 26, 2021, demonstrators in Budapest, Hungary demanded an explanation for the accusation that the country’s ruling government used the Pegasus spyware to covertly monitor several opposition politicians, journalists, lawyers, and businessmen.[2] The malware which was produced by the Israeli NSO Group can invade phones, gaining access to the cameras, microphones, and any information stored on the devices.[3] Direkt36, a Hungarian investigative journalism agency, conducted research on who may have been targeted and published their findings that involved a former state secretary and a current opposition mayor among approximately another 300 likely affected phone numbers.[4] However, it is yet to be determined if the Hungarian government has any involvement in the case, and state officials have affirmed that all surveillance activity complies with the Hungarian law.[5]

The implications:

  • Recently, Hungary has faced multiple protests regarding the introduction of a controversial law that targets the interests of the LGBTQ community and has generated tension and gained international criticism.[6] The new legislation banned gay people from featuring in educational materials as well as under-18s TV shows, in apparent violation of their right to freedom of expression. Protests against the anti-LGBTQ law are likely to continue, particularly as the announcement of a referendum on the legislation is set to bring the issue back to center the stage across Hungarian society. The increasing frequency of demonstrations shows that Hungarian residents are becoming more concerned about the country’s legislation and system, and the demands for the resignation of the government indicate that there is a desire for change. Such dissatisfaction is likely to influence the next elections held in 2022, which could bring a political transformation. The reelection of the current Prime Minister is likely to trigger further civil unrest among those who advocate for transformation, causing further instability in the country.

  • Hungary has been criticized for violating several basic rules and values of the European Union (E.U.) in the past, and Hungarian authorities were recently accused of violating the prohibition on collective expulsion and the right to an effective remedy by the European Court of Human Rights.[7] Should the government’s involvement in the Pegasus spyware case be confirmed, it could have serious consequences for Hungary as a member of the E.U. These violations are likely to result in further tension as well as loss of trust, raising suspicion and concern about selling sensitive information to third parties and countries. Its involvement in the Pegasus spyware case is likely to influence Hungary’s relations with other countries within the E.U. and internationally. In the long term, it may even result in Hungary losing its E.U. membership, particularly if accompanied by further sources of controversy. This would severely damage the interests of Hungarian citizens, who would likely have to bear the consequences of an economic downturn induced by the E.U. exit. They would also see their freedom of movement across E.U. countries compromised. The resulting losses in freedom of labor, goods, services, and capital would likely deliver an upsurge in unemployment and may even result in food shortages, thereby fuelling a continuation of protests.

  • This is not the first issue with covert surveillance practices in the country, as in 2016 the case of Szabó and Vissy v. Hungary showed that the Hungarian law does not safeguard the right to privacy efficiently enough.[8] If the government continues to be insufficient in protecting the basic human rights of the Hungarian residents, it is highly likely that similar incidents will occur. If confirmed, the government’s involvement in the Pegasus spyware incident would suggest that there has been a lack of effort to address and reform the matter with surveillance practices. Regardless of the government’s role in the Pegasus spyware case, people’s right to privacy continues to be under threat which likely further deteriorates the democratic values in the country.

[1]File:Data Security Breach (29723649810).jpg” by Blogtrepreneur licensed under Creative Commons

[2] Hungarians protest over alleged government spying, AP News, July 2021, https://apnews.com/article/technology-government-and-politics-europe-business-99b3b286766059ae424fea45f5316540

[3] Hungary: Politicians demand inquiry into alleged spying, AP News, July 2021, https://apnews.com/article/technology-europe-hungary-5d42379b6ee15a4f309f4ae022c0f536

[4] Hungary prosecutors open investigation into Pegasus spying claims, Al Jazeera, July 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/7/22/hungary-prosecutors-open-investigation-into-pegasus-spying-claims

[5] Hungary: Politicians demand inquiry into alleged spying, AP News, July 2021, https://apnews.com/article/technology-europe-hungary-5d42379b6ee15a4f309f4ae022c0f536

[6] Thousands join Budapest Pride march against anti-LGBTQ law, Reuters, July 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/thousands-join-budapest-pride-march-protest-over-new-anti-lgbt-law-2021-07-24/

[7] Dutch PM Rutte: No place in EU for Hungary with anti-LGBT law, BBC News, June 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-57596263

[8] Hungary: The government must provide a meaningful response to the Pegasus scandal, Amnesty International, July 2021, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/07/hungary-the-government-must-provide-a-meaningful-response-to-the-pegasus-scandal/

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