The undersigned partners in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) are alarmed by the continued lack of transparency of the Greek authorities about the surveillance of journalists. As reported last week, an audit by the Authority for Communication Security and Privacy (ADAE) at telecom company Cosmote confirmed that the state security services wiretapped investigative journalist Tasos Telloglou for unspecified national security reasons. The ADAE conducted the audit on 15 December, following requests by Telloglou and MEP Giorgos Kyrtsos, who was expelled from the ruling New Democracy party earlier this year.
Cosmote unsuccessfully attempted to interfere with the inspection, as its legal adviser questioned the ADAE’s competence and contacted Supreme Court prosecutor Isidoros Dogiakos. The latter allegedly tried to intervene and stop the audit by stating that there should be an immediate opinion of the Supreme Court Prosecutor’s Office on whether ADAE or interested citizens are allowed to be informed of possible surveillance by the National Intelligence Service (EYP). The ADAE, however, invoked its constitutional authority and insisted on the audit. Dogiakos has meanwhile said that he simply expressed a non-binding view, even though he believes the audit was not legal. He also lashed out against media that have criticised the Greek judicial authorities for their handling of the ongoing investigation into “Greek Watergate”, and called for an extensive tax audit of the outlets.
Telloglou, who works for investigative platform Inside Story, leading daily Kathimerini and the ANT1 television news programme “Special Report”, had written in October that he believed he was put under surveillance in connection with his reporting on a spyware scandal. In the article, he said his colleague at Inside Story, Eliza Triantafillou and journalist Thodoris Chondrogiannos of Reporters United had also been monitored. Both outlets repeatedly published breaking news about the use of spyware and alleged connections between companies that market the technology and Greek government figures.
Last week’s revelations are the latest chapter in a sprawling scandal in Greece which has implicated the EYP and the government in the surveillance of journalists. This involves the confirmed hacking of the phone of freelance financial journalist Thanasis Koukakis through the use of Predator spyware by an unknown party and allegations that investigative reporter Stavros Malichudis was secretly monitored by the EYP. In November, newspaper Documento published an article alleging that numerous journalists, editors, media owners and others connected to the industry were targeted with Predator spyware.
These cases are major violations of the affected journalists’ privacy, journalistic source protection, and press freedom in general. Although an investigation into Koukakis’ case has been launched, overall accountability remains wanting, and the Greek authorities have provided no real transparency. Quite the opposite: soon after New Democracy came to power in 2019, it moved to bring the intelligence service under the direct purview of the office of the Prime Minister and amended the requirements for the position of Director of Intelligence so the Prime Minister’s favourite could be appointed. In March 2021, the governing party rushed through a legislative amendment that changed the legal provisions that allowed citizens to be informed by the ADAE about whether they had been under surveillance if it had taken place for national security reasons. The cases at hand, pertaining to journalists who report in the public interest, serve to underscore the problematic nature of this exemption, showcasing the potential for abuse of this clause.
New legislation, introduced by the government in November and passed by the legislature earlier this month, does not offer a solution to the problem or meet European and international law and standards. Ostensibly aimed at providing better safeguards against surveillance by the security services, it fails to realise its stated purpose. For one, while it reintroduced the possibility for citizens to apply to ADAE to find out whether they were surveilled for national security purposes, the applicant has to wait three years and even then, is not allowed to know the precise basis for being monitored, limiting the ability to seek redress. Further, while banning the use of spyware by non-state actors, the new law legitimises its procurement and use by the government, which was previously illegal. The legislative process itself was problematic too, allowing a mere seven days for public consultation; the ADAE was also not duly informed or consulted.
Accordingly, the MFRR reiterates its calls on the Greek authorities to provide transparency and accountability for these severe attacks on press freedom and privacy, and to put an immediate halt to the practice. We also renew our calls for action at the EU level, including through the revision of Article 4 of the European Media Freedom Act in order to effectively protect journalists, media workers and their sources against illegal surveillance.
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
International Press Institute (IPI)