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Spyware on EU Parliament’s Radar as MEPs Seek to Ban Its Use on Journalists


October 04, 2023

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Spyware on EU Parliament’s Radar as MEPs Seek to Ban Its Use on Journalists

Members of the European Parliament this week adopted their position on a new law designed to strengthen defenses against the EU media, including a ban on the use of spyware against journalists.

The European Media Freedom Act, adopted by a majority of MEPs Tuesday, seeks to oblige EU member states to “ensure media plurality and protect media independence from governmental, political, economic or private interference,” according to a press release issued by the European Parliament.

“MEPs want to ban all forms of interference in the editorial decisions of media outlets and prevent external pressure being exerted on journalists, such as forcing them to disclose their sources, accessing encrypted content on their devices, or targeting them with spyware,” the announcement reads.

Defending journalism and democracy

MEPs argue that spyware use may only be justified as a ‘last resort’ measure, in rare situations that absolutely call for monitoring certain people, or only if ordered by an independent judicial authority to investigate a serious crime, such as terrorism or human trafficking.

“We must not turn a blind eye to the worrying state of press freedom worldwide and in Europe,” rapporteur Sabine Verheyen (EPP, DE) said ahead of the vote. “Media is not just any business. Beyond its economic dimension, it contributes to education, cultural development and inclusivity in society, protecting fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and access to information. With this bill, we reach an important legislative milestone to safeguard the diversity and freedom of our media landscape and our journalists and protect our democracies.”

Negotiations with Council on the final shape of the law are up next.

A growing threat

The use of commercial spyware in targeted attacks on journalists and other high-profile targets has increased in recent years.

A new report by the Canadian crusaders at The Citizen Lab last month revealed that critical security flaws in iOS and Google Chrome were used to infect high-profile targets with Predator spyware.

To combat the growing threat targeting its products, Apple last year resorted to introducing a Lockdown Mode designed to limit certain features and functions and drastically reduce the attack surface of iPhones, iPads and Macs.

Apple systematically rolls out emergency, out-of-band patches to address security weaknesses found by researchers in novel exploits and ongoing targeted attacks. Although most such attacks are highly targeted, Bitdefender strongly recommends making all security updates a priority as the vendor makes them available.

Regardless of device type or OS, everyone should consider deploying a dedicated security solution on their personal devices to defend against the vast array of cyber threats out there.




Filip has 15 years of experience in technology journalism. In recent years, he has turned his focus to cybersecurity in his role as Information Security Analyst at Bitdefender.

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