Israeli news portal Calcalist published an investigative report Tuesday revealing that Israeli police allegedly used NSO group’s Pegasus spyware to remotely access, control and extract data from phones of Israeli citizens without a warrant.
The report disclosed that the police did not obtain a search or bugging warrant to execute the surveillance. There was no judicial supervision over the collection, usage and distribution of the data collected by the police. Rather, high-ranking police officials gave the orders to use NSO’s spyware to target Israeli citizens who aren’t necessarily criminals or suspects. These orders were received and carried out by the police’s special operations cyber unit in SIGINT, whose entire operations are kept confidential.
The persons targeted included mayors, former government officials, and leaders of protests against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The report said that the activists involved in protests against Netanyahu were targeted while he was still in office. Further, the police also used the spyware to obtain evidence of bribery from a serving mayor’s smartphone while the investigation was still confidential. Later, the police whitewashed the evidence and started an open investigation.
In some cases, the police hacked phones to ease the professional investigative work and identify proven suspicions. The police used the spyware for phishing as well, by attempting to obtain data from a target’s phone without even knowing if the target had committed any offence. It also hacked data of civilians who were not necessarily connected to an investigation in order to use it later to pressurize them during interrogation.
In response to Calcalist’s report, Minister of Public Security Omer Barlev said, “there is no practice of wiretapping or hacking into devices by the Israel Police without the approval of a judge.” The Israeli Police also issued a statement on Tuesday denying the allegations and stating that it uses its advanced technological abilities in accordance with the law.
However, on the same day, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit sent a letter to Israel’s police chief, seeking an explanation for the police’s alleged use of spyware against Israeli citizens and activists. The country’s State Comptroller also launched a probe into the allegations. Ultimately, on Thursday, the Israeli Police chief announced an investigation into Calcalist’s claims.