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‘Spy van’ affair ends with €76,000 fines

The spy van at the centre of the 2019 case

Larnaca criminal court on Tuesday imposed a €76,000 fine on WiSpear Systems Limited, a company selling surveillance systems, over the ‘spy van’ affair that broke out in late 2019.

The company was facing 91 counts across multiple charges – breaching privacy laws, attacks on information systems laws, breaching electronic communications laws, customs laws, and processing of personal data laws.

Effectively the company was accused of setting up an electronic device or system consisting of WiFi access points capable of intercepting private communications without permission.

The court cleared the company – which operates out of Larnaca – of 49 of the counts. The defendant pleaded guilty to the other 42 counts.

Fines ranging from €4,000 to €6,000 were imposed per count.

It also ordered that the police return to the company the ‘spy van’ as well as all electronic equipment seized by authorities during the course of their investigations.

“In a serious case such as this, there is a manifest need to impose a steep monetary fine, no matter how one takes into consideration the arguments by the defendant’s counsel, there being an intense concern and a sense of insecurity on the part of the public regarding respect for their rights, and as a result the need to deter such conduct becomes obvious,” the court said.

In its judgment, it added that the “extent of the violations was extensive in terms of the number of persons, and in terms of duration, that is, over a year… but it was accidental and non-targeted, while the non-deletion of data was inadvertent and no processing of this data was carried out.”

It added that “no person suffered direct damage.”

In passing sentence, the court took into account a number of mitigating factors – such as that the defendant (the company) had readily cooperated with the police and had expressed remorse.

The court said also it saw no point continuing a complicated and time-consuming case, given the company’s admissions and given that the company has already been slapped with a “punishing” administrative fine by the Commissioner for the Protection of Personal Data over the same affair.

It further took into consideration the defendant’s lack of a criminal record, the fact the company terminated its operations, the damages it suffered and the negative publicity.

In November 2021 the data protection watchdog had imposed an administrative fine of €925,000 on WiSpear for GDPR violations.

Also in November, the attorney-general dropped all charges against three individuals that had been arrested in connection with the alleged ‘spy van’.

At the time attorney-general Giorgos Savvides stayed the prosecution against the three suspects – two men aged 30 and 35 and a woman aged 41.

Among the three was Tal Dillian, the Israeli CEO of WiSpear Systems Limited, who owned the van.

Dillian is an ex- Israeli intelligence officer.

The three were facing some 90 charges related to violating privacy laws, processing private data, falsely obtaining documents, breaking the radio communication law, and conspiracy to commit a felony.

Police began investigating the case in November 2019, after the ‘spy van’ was showcased in a Forbes report – where Dillian was essentially advertising his services, which included covert surveillance and eavesdropping.

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