In the 100-member chamber, 52 senators on Wednesday voted in favour of setting up the inquiry, with 45 voting against the measure and no one abstaining, the state PAP news agency reported.
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party did not nominate any candidates for the panel, and so the seven-strong committee comprises senators representing opposition parties as well as one independent lawmaker.
One of the senators behind the motion to establish the special panel, the Civic Coalition’s Marcin Bosacki, was elected to chair the committee late on Wednesday.
The Senate’s move follows reports by the Associated Press news agency that in 2019 Krzysztof Brejza, a senior politician with Poland's opposition Civic Platform (PO) party, was hacked with Pegasus spyware from Israeli firm NSO Group.
According to the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, which researches digital surveillance, Brejza’s phone was digitally broken into 33 times between April and October 2019 when he ran his party’s parliamentary election campaign, the AP has reported.
Krzysztof Brejza. Photo: PAP/Mateusz Marek
Citizen Lab’s researchers earlier said that former Polish Deputy Prime Minister Roman Giertych, a prominent lawyer, and prosecutor Ewa Wrzosek had also been put on surveillance with NSO software.
The researchers were unable to identify who was behind the hacks.
Bosacki, a former journalist and ex-ambassador to Canada who leads the opposition Civic Coalition in the Senate, said the special panel would seek to analyse "instances of illegal Pegasus-aided surveillance" and related breaches of law.
The inquiry aims to assess the impact of any such breaches on the electoral process, he told reporters, adding that the committee would work to draw up and submit a bill to reform Poland’s security services.
Bosacki said he wanted the committee to begin by interviewing experts from Citizen Lab, the PAP news agency reported.
Earlier this week, Poland's conservative leader Jarosław Kaczyński, a deputy prime minister, was quoted as saying in a media interview that the creation and use of Pegasus reflected “technological change, such as the rise of encrypted messaging applications” and added that “it would be bad if Polish authorities did not possess this type of tool.”
At the same time, Kaczyński, who heads Poland's governing Law and Justice party, said that Pegasus had not been used against the opposition, calling such claims “utter nonsense.”
Jarosław KaczyńskI. Image: Polish Radio/PR24
In late December, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki dismissed accusations by the opposition over Pegasus, warning against "a spiral of fake news."
Meanwhile, Stanisław Żaryn, spokesman for Poland’s security services, said after the launch of the Senate inquiry on Wednesday that in Poland "parliamentary oversight of security sector agencies is exercised by a designated lower-house committee that also includes opposition politicians."
Under Polish parliamentary rules, Senate committees lack formal investigative powers, unlike special inquiries set up by lawmakers in the lower house, the PAP news agency reported.