ATHENS (AP) — Lawmakers in Greece on Friday approved legislation banning commercial spyware and reforming the rules for legally authorized wiretapping following allegations that top government officials and journalists were secretly targeted by surveillance software.
The 156-142 vote in Parliament followed two days of debate, during which opposition lawmakers accused the government of trying to cover up illegal surveillance. In addition, they demanded that the date of the general elections be brought forward, scheduled for before next summer.
Under the new law, the use, sale or distribution of spyware in Greece will carry a minimum sentence of two years in prison. Additional safeguards were also drafted for legally authorized wiretapping, as well as for the hiring of the director and deputy directors of the National Intelligence Service (NIS).
Critics, including human rights groups and an independent transparency authority, argue that the changes followed a poorly planned consultation process and lacked sufficient oversight. All opposition lawmakers voted against the bill on Friday.
In August, a top government adviser and the country’s security chief resigned following revelations that the NIS tapped the phone of socialist politician Nikos Androulakis, who was later elected leader of Greece’s third-largest party.
In addition, the press reported that the cell phones of cabinet members, as well as other senior officials and journalists, could have been tapped with the advanced Predator spyware.
The government claims that its agencies have never used spyware, a claim that opponents dispute.
“Was the NIS monitoring other politicians besides Mr Androulakis? The heads of the armed forces? Members of the European Parliament?” opposition leader Alexis Tsipras, who heads the left-wing Syriza party, told parliament.
“I hope the answer is ‘no’ and I hope to hear it clearly. But if it turns out that they are lying, they will have a duty to resign.”