Polish intelligence services tapped the phone of Sopot mayor Jacek Karnowski using Pegasus spyware, "Wyborcza" has found. The politician was under surveillance while actively involved in the opposition's 2019 campaign for Senate.
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- This is an invasion of privacy and human dignity. I certainly won't leave it at that. Those who spy on their political opponents should be brought before the State Tribunal- says Jacek Karnowski, the mayor of Sopot, when he learns about "Wyborcza’s" latest revelations. His phone was hacked and put under surveillance in 2018-2019.

Spying on opposition figures   

Besides serving as the mayor of Sopot, Mr. Karnowski also chairs the local government association "Tak! Dla Polski" [Yes! For Poland], tasked with supporting the formation of joint opposition lists for the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Karnowski was among the initiators of the so-called Senate Pact during the previous election campaign. - At that time, we were negotiating a list of names with the Civic Platform, the Left, and the Polish People’s Party. Together with the mayors of Łódź, Gliwice, and some other local government officials, I traveled all over Poland to promote the candidates- he recalls.

According to information obtained by "Wyborcza", Poland’s Central Anticorruption Bureau (CBA) at the time tapped his phone using the infamous Pegasus -  spyware developed by the Israeli cyber-security company NSO Group enabling to remotely hack into a mobile device, harvest any given data, eavesdrop on the target’s phone, and even upload files onto the infected device.

Mr. Karnowski's number appears on a list of surveillance targets accessible to members of the international Pegasus Project consortium. Polish intelligence services logged into the mayor’s phone at least a dozen times between November 2018 and March 2019. It remains unclear how much and what sort of data was downloaded. An analysis of Mr. Karnowski's phone at the time did not help to determine this. All data from the device had been wiped (the phone was given to another person).

Polish government services have a statutory obligation to destroy data in case they fail to detect and confirm a crime, but they are not required to inform the target about it.

- A person who has been spied on has no legal way of finding out that he or she was of interest to the intelligence services. Especially if the materials are not included in any legal proceedings later on- says Wojciech Klicki, a lawyer associated with the Panoptykon Foundation.

There are no pending proceedings against Mr. Karnowski. He has not been called as a witness either. The Gdańsk branch of CBA, which is most likely responsible for hacking the mayor’s phone, investigated him once before. In 2008, businessman Sławomir Julke accused Mr. Karnowski of attempted bribery. After ten years, Karnowski was cleared of all charges, and some of them were dropped by the prosecutor himself.

The list of Pegasus targets keeps getting longer

Polish intelligence services used Pegasus spyware until November 2021 when its license expired and was not renewed by the program’s manufacturer. The Israeli Ministry of Defense blacklisted Poland and Hungary when it was revealed that their governments had used the tool to spy on opposition members and journalists.

The spyware scandal broke out in December 2021 when the Associated Press revealed that Pegasus had been used dozens of times in 2019 to spy on the opposition senator Krzysztof Brejza (at a time when he was running the Civic Coalition's election campaign), and later to track the high-profile lawyer Roman Giertych and prosecutor Ewa Wrzosek.

The Polish government went to great lengths to cover up its purchase of the spyware. There are reasons to believe that the Ministry of Justice, which coordinated the transaction, misused public funds.


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