On 24 February 2022, Solomon filed a legal complaint before the prosecutor of the Supreme Court, for the surveillance of citizens by the National Intelligence Agency (EYP) in complete lack of transparency, and without ensuring that its officers act with accountability.
Alarmed not only by the revelation of a journalist being monitored, but specifically a member of Solomon and Solomon’s journalistic work, there is also growing concern of an ever-expanding “grey zone” which allows EYP officials to carry out large-scale and unchecked surveillance on citizens, we proceeded to file the relevant legal complaint with Greece’s highest court.
With this legal complaint, submitted by Solomon’s legal representative, attorney Dimitris Georgakopoulos, we denounce the actions of EYP civil servants, which we consider to be against the rule of law and in violation of fundamental rights and freedoms.
We call for an investigation into the possibility that EYP officials (who fall under the direct authority of the Prime Minister) may have committed offences such as violating the confidentiality of telephone communications and violating the procedure for lifting this confidentiality, and the illegal collection of personal data. In addition, we call for an investigation into other possible criminal offences.
EYP’s confidential documents are leaked
But, let’s explain how things stand, and why we decided to file against EYP.
The Greek government is committed to upholding human rights such as the right to privacy, the right to privacy of communications and to press freedom, both under the Greek Constitution and under international agreements that Greece has ratified (e.g. the European Convention on Human Rights).
By law, EYP’s activity is defined as “seeking, collecting, processing and disclosing information to the competent authorities” regarding issues that fall under the protection of national security, territorial integrity, and the democratic constitution of Greece, as well as the fight against organized crime.
However, on November 13, 2021, a front-page story in the daily newspaper Efsyn revealed EYP’s internal communication documents, or “wires”. It’s largely questionable whether the content of these wires is within the defined objectives of the state agency.
EYP’s wires revealed the multi-layered surveillance of citizens, who were engaged in entirely legal activities. The subjects were physically or technically monitored ― hence the references to “highly reliable sources” in the wires, a term that, through our investigation, was found to describe information obtained through the interception of an individual’s phone.
According to the published wires, intelligence was collected on a public official, a lawyer, and organizers of the anti-vax movement in Greece. Intelligence was also collected on an employee of the International Organization for Migration (the official UN body for migration and a key partner of the Greek government in the refugee issue), and on Jamal, a 12-year-old Syrian refugee who was living in a pre-departure detention center on the Greek island of Kos, as well as on our colleague Stavros Malichudis, who was reporting on Jamal’s story for Solomon at the time.
Some of the wires explicitly state that EYP collected data and information on the “ideological background” of those under surveillance.
Critical questions on how EYP operates
Under the rule of law, withholding fundamental rights from citizens can only be justified when there is a greater collective benefit.
As EYP’s function is to safeguard national and territorial sovereignty, depriving a citizen’s fundamental right to privacy is justified only if said action results in the safeguarding of national sovereignty.
Inevitably, a question arises ― one that should be of concern to any Greek citizen: by the surveillance of these individuals, was a threat to national security actually prevented?
Last November’s revelations about EYP’s extensive surveillance on citizens produced harsh reactions from opposition parties in Greece. The revelation of the surveillance of Solomon’s work (an independent media outlet covering migration and human rights issues whose work has been accredited on a European level) caused reactions from the Greek and international journalistic community.
From reading EYP’s wire about Solomon, it is clear that our surveillance had nothing to do with some (non-existent) plan that posed a threat to national security. Instead, it was clear that it had to do with our journalistic work, regarding a specific piece we were working on. One can reasonably understand that even if our case was the one that just “happened” to be leaked, it is highly unlikely that Solomon is the only Greek media outlet that is under surveillance by EYP.
When requested to provide clear answers, the Greek government provided contradictory explanations, which only increase the level of mistrust.
Two days after the revelation, the government spokesperson indirectly confirmed the surveillance, saying that EYP “performs a very important role with great competence”. In the weeks that followed, Minister of State Giorgos Gerapetritis twice denied the surveillance of journalists in Greece and our colleague specifically ― without, however, in either of his written statements, questioning the authenticity of the leaked wire that alleged the surveillance of our colleague.
Today, over three months later, the inevitable question of what purpose is served by the surveillance of an independent journalistic organization, and how exactly a report on a 12-year-old refugee affects Greek national security remains unanswered.
How EYP became an agency accountable to no one
So why did we decide to file against EYP before the Supreme Court, the highest court in the country?
A first reason stems from the fact that, given the nature of the agency itself, citizens have absolutely no other means of seeking an answer to the above-mentioned critical questions.
We have no other way of finding out why the journalism we practise was targeted by a state agency that is tasked with safeguarding the national security of a European country. And there’s nowhere to direct our questions which, as we witnessed in these recent months, are difficult to live with: Why were we put under surveillance? Is the surveillance still going on today? Are we a threat to society?
But that’s not only why we decided to file our case against EYP with the Supreme Court.
We decided to take action because the above-mentioned issues are even more concerning, when one takes into account the rapid transformation of this very agency over the last two and a half years.
In July 2019, EYP was transferred to the Prime Minister’s office. One month later, an official (who did not meet the qualifications required by law) was appointed as EYP’s director. After his appointment, requirements for the position were retroactively amended. What followed, according to the opposition parties, was the removal of “unwanted” personnel, and the eventual hiring of new recruits outside of the regular, legal procedure for the hiring of civil servants.
In the meantime, a major legislative change, which sheds a different light on this transformation, took place.
The Communications Privacy Authority (ADAE) was the independent authority overseeing EYP’s operation. As revealed in a report by the investigative network Reporters United, the government removed ADAE’s ability to notify individuals under surveillance that they had been monitored, once the objective of their surveillance was no longer in place.
This was passed using an overdue and unconstitutional amendment. As argued in an article published in a legal journal, written by ADAE’s president and two of its members, this provision is incompatible with the country’s legislation. The article mentions that such provisions have only been pushed through countries such as Russia, Bulgaria, and Hungary ― and when citizens took their cases to the European Court of Human Rights, the court judged against the countries.
Who will monitor the ones who monitor us?
Solomon’s legal complaint was sent to the Prime Minister’s office, as well as to all relevant ministries and independent authorities, as well as the Greek Ombudsman.
Solomon’s attorney, Dimitris Georgakopoulos, stated:
“Irrefutably, this surveillance was conducted, as what is mentioned in the leaked EYP documents published by Efsyn was indirectly confirmed by the government spokesman at a press conference the day after the revelation. Therefore, the issue now is for the Justice Department to investigate the indications that these interceptions are not only outside the scope of EYP’s objectives (e.g. national security issues, terrorism, nuclear trade, etc.) but are part of a more comprehensive surveillance of citizens engaged in legitimate activities.”
Mr. Georgakopoulos further stated that “answers must be given about the practices that EYP is now proved to be following: how was EYP’s interest in the individuals mentioned in the leaked wire identified; whether the procedure for lifting one’s confidentiality of communications was violated; how the data collected is used by EYP; how the information in the file on someone’s “ideological background” (mentioned in the leaked wire) is used” adding that “serious questions of legality and the rule of law arise. The fact that journalist Stavros Malichudis was monitored while working on his article raises a serious issue of freedom of the press, as well as the safety of journalists and journalistic sources.”
For our part, as Solomon journalists, we demand nothing more than respect for both our right to practice journalism unhindered by pressure from state agents, and exercise our rights and obligation in protecting our journalistic sources.
As citizens of this country, we demand that state agencies charged with defending the public interest, which are granted the power to withhold fundamental rights, be held accountable, and make adequately justified decisions that are guaranteed not to violate the rule of law.
In other words, we demand that those who monitor us, should (also) be monitored.