*By Sofia Despoina Feizidou

The Athens Polytechnic uprising in November 1973 was the most massive anti-dictatorial protest and a precursor to the collapse of the military dictatorship regime imposed on the Greek people since April 21, 1963. Among other things, this regime had abolished fundamental rights.

One of the most critical fundamental rights is the right to the protection of correspondence, especially the confidentiality of communication. The right of an individual to share and exchange thoughts, ideas, feelings, news, and opinions within an intimate and confidential framework, with chosen individuals, without fear of private communication being monitored or any expression being revealed to third parties or used against them, is essential to democracy. Therefore, it is a fundamental individual right enshrined in international and European legislation, as well as in national Constitutions. The provision of Article 19 of the Greek Constitution dates back to 1975 (which may not be a coincidence).

However, the revelation of the surveillance of politicians or their relatives, actors, journalists, businessmen, and others one year ago shows that the protection of communication privacy remains vulnerable, especially in the modern digital age.

Spyware: A New Asset in the Arsenal of Intelligence Services and Companies

Spyware is a type of malware designed to secretly monitor a person’s activities on their electronic devices, such as computers or mobile phones, without the end user’s knowledge or consent. Spyware is typically installed on devices by opening an email or a file attachment. Once installed, it is difficult to detect, and even if detected, proving responsibility for the invasion is challenging. Spyware provides full and retroactive access to the user’s device, monitoring internet activity and gathering sensitive information and personal data, including files, messages, passwords, or credit card numbers. Additionally, it can capture screenshots or monitor audio and video by activating the device’s microphone or camera.

Some of the most well-known spyware designed to invade and monitor mobile devices remotely include:

  1. Predator: This spyware is installed on the device when a user receives a message containing a link that appears normal and includes a catchy description to mislead the user into clicking on the link. Once clicked, the spyware is automatically installed, granting full access to the device, messages, files, as well as its camera and microphone.
  2. Pegasus: Similar to Predator, Pegasus aims to convince the user to click on a link, which then installs the spyware on the device. However, Pegasus can also be installed on a device without requiring any action from the user, such as a missed call on WhatsApp. Immediately after installation, it executes its operator’s commands and gathers a significant amount of personal data, including files, passwords, text messages, call records, or the user’s location, leaving no trace of its existence on the device.

In June 2023, the Chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry investigating the use of Pegasus and similar surveillance spyware stated: “Spyware can be an effective tool in fighting crime, but when used wrongly by governments, it poses a significant risk to the rule of law and fundamental rights.” Indeed, the technological capabilities of spyware provide unauthorized access to personal data and the monitoring of people’s activities, leading to violations of the right to communication confidentiality, the right to the protection of personal data, and the right to privacy in general.

According to the Committee’s findings, the abuse of surveillance spyware is widespread in the European Union. In addition to Greece, the use of such software has been found in Poland, Hungary, Spain, and Cyprus, which is deeply concerning. The need to establish a regulatory framework to prevent such abuse is now in the spotlight, not only at the national level but primarily at the EU level.

What Do We Need?

  1. Clear Rules to Prevent Abuse: European rules should clearly define how law enforcement authorities can use spyware. The use of spyware by law enforcement should only be authorized in exceptional cases, for a predefined purpose, and for a limited period of time. A common legal definition of the concept of ‘national security reasons’ should be established. The obligation to notify targeted individuals and non-targeted individuals whose data were accessed during someone else’s surveillance, as well as procedures for supervision and independent control following any incident of illegal use of such software, should also be enshrined.
  2. Compliance of National Legislation with European Court of Human Rights Case Law: The Court grants national authorities wide discretion in weighing the right to privacy against national security interests. However, it has developed and interpreted the criteria introduced by the European Convention of Human Rights, which must be met for a restriction on the right to confidential, free communication to be considered legitimate. This has been established in numerous judgments since 1978.
  3. Establishment of the “European Union Technology Laboratory”: This independent research institute would be responsible for investigating surveillance methods and providing technological support, such as device screening and forensic research.
  4. Foreign Policy Dimension: Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have called for a thorough review of spyware export licenses and more effective enforcement of the EU’s export control rules. The European Union should also cooperate with the United States in developing a common strategy on spyware, as well as with non-EU countries to ensure that aid provided is not used for the purchase and use of spyware.


In conclusion, as we reflect upon the lessons of history and the enduring struggle for democracy and fundamental rights, Benjamin Franklin’s timeless wisdom resonates with profound significance: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” The recent revelations of spyware abuse have starkly illustrated the delicate balance between security and individual freedoms. While spyware may be wielded as a tool in the fight against crime, its potential for misuse poses a grave threat to the rule of law and the very principles upon which our democratic societies are built.

*Sofia-Despina Feizidou is a lawyer, and graduate of the Athens Law School, holding a Master’s degree with specialization in “Law & Information and Communication Technologies” from the Department of Digital Systems of the University of Piraeus. Her thesis was on the comparative review of the case law of the European Courts (ECtHR and CJEU) on mass surveillance.