Inquiry finds Israeli police used spyware against three people, report says – The Guardian

Inquiry finds Israeli police used spyware against three people, report says – The Guardian

An initial investigation into allegations that Israeli police targeted citizens with spyware has confirmed that the application was indeed used against three people, according to claims by a local news station.

The Israeli broadcaster Channel 12 said a police investigation ordered by Israel’s public security minister, Omer Barlev, had concluded that of 26 individuals named in recent reports as having been targeted using NSO Group’s Pegasus software, three named individuals were targeted, with the police successfully hacking only one of the phones.

Channel 12 did not name the three people and the Guardian has not been able to independently verify the report.

The disclosure comes amid reports that officers from the intelligence agencies Shin Bet and Mossad would be involved in the investigation.

Channel 12 claimed in its report that the initial inquiry suggested that in all three cases a court had approved the interception of individuals’ phones.

The report leaves numerous questions unanswered, including whether Pegasus was the only application of its kind available to the Israeli police’s cyber-intelligence unit, and whether others than those named in recent reports were targeted.

Barlev ordered the initial investigation at the behest of the Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, pending a decision on what shape any further commission of inquiry should take.

“Before a decision is made on the mechanism for investigating the affair, the prime minister requested to conduct a [further] probe of the 26 names mentioned in the Calcalist newspaper’s report,” a statement from Bennett’s office said, referring to the media outlet that initially reported the use of the spyware.

Calcalist reported on Monday that the spyware was deployed without court authorisation against senior government officials, mayors, activist leaders, journalists, and the former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s family members and advisers, naming two dozen targets.

Bennett said this week: “This tool [Pegasus] and similar tools are important tools in the fight against terrorism and severe crime. But they were not intended to be used in fishing campaigns targeting the Israeli public or officials, which is why we need to understand exactly what happened.”

The investigation into alleged police use of Pegasus is the latest controversy to hit NSO Group’s spyware. The Pegasus project – by a global consortium of media organisations, of which the Guardian is a partner – has alleged that the spyware, licensed by Israel, has been used against activists, journalists, political opponents and human rights defenders in a number of countries.

NSO says all of its sales are government-authorised and that it does not itself run Pegasus.

The controversy has prompted a wider debate about all kinds of surveillance of Israeli citizens by the state. It has also fed into the drama surrounding Netanyahu’s corruption trial, with the former prime minister seizing on reports that police illicitly tapped the phones of key witnesses.

On Tuesday a Jerusalem court accepted a request to cancel a hearing in order to provide more time for prosecution lawyers to seek more information on the claims.