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Rammos reveals Greece's political misuse of spyware

Christos Rammos is exerting control over the Greek government.

Since the summer, Rammos has been the primary investigator of the surveillance scandal that has engulfed the Athens government and its leader, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and he is exerting pressure on the ruling conservative party New Democracy ahead of the next election, which could occur as early as April 9th (or by mid-July the latest).

The bespectacled 72-year-old former judge leads the Hellenic Authority for Communication Security and Privacy (ADAE), a previously obscure regulator that is now leading some of the toughest investigations into government services' use of spyware to snoop on top politicians, senior state officials, and journalists — a scandal that has spiraled into Greece's version of the 1972 Watergate scandal in the United States.

To the supporters of the administration, Rammos is a "delivery boy" of the political opposition who has "far beyond the limits of his role" in probing the matter. But for opposition and civil society groups, the chief regulator is a hero who violated Greece's vow of silence over political surveillance - a glimpse of hope in restoring balance to Greek democracy, where press freedom has suffered blows and insiders complain of corrupt politics.

Rammos said in an interview that he is "presented as a tool of the opposition in the worst case, or else as a strange Don Quixote, an obsessed man who is out to become the savior of democracy. I'm just doing my duty. And that's considered exceptional nowadays ," he remarked.

Tuesday, Rammos will address the European Parliament's (PEGA) inquiry committee probing the use of spyware in Europe.

At home, the chief regulator faces the most powerful individuals in the nation.

The surveillance crisis erupted in August, when it was revealed that the government had tapped the phone of Nikos Androulakis, the leader of the Socialist Pasok party – an action that the government itself deemed lawful but improper. It has now led to the resignation of high-ranking government officials, including Grigoris Dimitriadis, the chief of staff to the prime minister and Mitsotakis' nephew, and Panagiotis Kontoleon, the head of the National Intelligence Service.

Disclosures by investigative journalists, civil rights organizations, and Rammos' own regulator ADAE revealed a convoluted tale of how the country's state spy service had an ever-expanding network of politicians and journalists under surveillance, while controversial spyware such as Predator was simultaneously installed on the phones of some individuals by as-yet-unidentified perpetrators.

The government denies charges that Mitsotakis himself was involved in the incident, stating that any misconduct was committed by "foul networks" within the intelligence service. It states that there is no evidence of a connection between the "lawful" but "wrong" wiretapping by state officials and the use of spyware, that a judicial investigation is ongoing, and that opposition party Syriza is hypocritical for raising the issue of the rule of law after a recent ruling found an ex-minister of the party guilty of breach of duty in connection with a 2015 TV licenses bid.

Rammos is gradually exposing the terrible details of the government's activities. His authority has performed audits that exposed the intelligence agency's surveillance of state leaders. He submitted evidence to the Greek parliamentary committee examining the affair behind closed doors and continued audits despite opposition from pro-government media.

His findings have shaken the foundations of Greek politics, despite efforts by a prosecutor of the supreme court and the ruling New Democracy party to prevent their public release.

"From an unknown authority, ADAE unwittingly became a protagonist," stated Rammos. He stated that the slow pace of the Greek judiciary prevents a more complete review of the monitoring powers of intelligence organizations.

Six more senior state officials, including the heads of the Greek armed forces and the labor minister, have been placed under surveillance by the state spy service (EYP) for up to two years, as revealed by the ADAE's most recent audit at the request of Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the main opposition Syriza party.

New Democracy prevented Rammos from informing the parliamentary committee in confidence about his latest findings. He subsequently submitted a letter to the party leaders detailing his findings, and Tsipras publicized them in parliament, calling on the government to quit.

Following this most recent audit, the number of assaults against him increased. Government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou termed Rammos' actions "a serious blunder, institutional and political" and added that he "obviously aspires to become a political actor in a sensitive period."

"Rammos has touched the boundaries of treason and not just the legal order," claimed Development Minister Adonis Georgiadis.

But, the regulator, who was a judge for 38 years, maintains that it is his duty to investigate the government's use of spyware. "In Greece there is a tendency to suspect that everything in public life is done in a partisan way, that there is a hidden political or personal agenda behind every decision. The possibility of being a proper and honest professional is not accredited ," he stated, adding, "nothing could be further away from my personality, mindset and aspirations than a political career."

Pro-government media have demanded his resignation.

Yet, "I never thought of resigning. Not for a moment. No one can dictate that to me ," he stated, adding that his term expires in May 2025. "When you have to deal with slander, lies and hatred, it might occur for a moment that you wish you would better like to get rid of all of it. But for me, duty prevails."

But, he warned that threats of legal action against his authority could have a "chilling effect" on his personnel. "Where there is fear there is no democracy. Democracies need a calm environment and respect [for] the personalities [conscientiously doing] their job, even if we disagree with them," he stated.

Above all, the regulator is striving to restore the authority of independent watchdog organizations, including his own privacy authority, and by extension, to restore democracy in Greece.

"“In Greece we have not really understood what independent authorities are for," Rammos remarked. "The culture of all parties over time has unfortunately mainly been that independent authorities are good and welcome as long as they do not annoy us, but whenever they become unpleasant, we attack them. We consider them intruders."

"We are dealing with an ongoing crisis in the domain of the confidentiality of communications," he stated. "It’s usual for democracy to have crises and it has the means [to] overcome them, but this needs constant vigilance and sometimes courage too."



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