Authorities allegedly targeted politicians and activists.
Israeli police have employed NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to extract data from phones belonging to Israeli citizens, according to an investigation by the country’s Calcalist business publication. Police reportedly used the controversial software to target a number of individuals, including politicians and members of an activist group that had called for the removal of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to the report, Israeli police conducted their surveillance without court supervision, a claim both police and public officials deny.
“All police activity in this field is done in accordance with the law, on the basis of court orders and strict work procedures,” Israeli Police said. The Washington Post reports Omer Bar-Lev, the country’s country’s public security minister, said an initial investigation had found no evidence of a “secretive wiretapping” program but promised a judge would check everything “thoroughly and unequivocally.”
“We would like to clarify that the company does not operate the systems in its customers’ possession and is not involved in their operation,” NSO Group said in a statement the company shared with Israeli media. “The company sells its products under license and supervision for the use of security bodies and state law enforcement agencies, to prevent crime and terrorism legally, and according to court orders and local law in each country.”
Per The Guardian, Israeli law only allows Shin Bet, the country’s domestic intelligence agency, to hack a phone without a court order. What’s more, the only context in which the agency is allowed to carry out such an action is to prevent a terrorist attack involving Palestinians, Israeli-Arabs or Israeli-Jews. Approval from a senior Shin Bet official or the attorney general’s office is also required. No such exemption exists for the country’s police service. However, according to Calcalist, the software wasn’t directly covered by Israel’s existing laws.
The report comes a month after Reuters found the Pegasus spyware had been used to target at least nine US State Department officials. In that instance, an unknown assailant had used the software to target federal employees who were either stationed in Uganda or whose work involved the African country. NSO has claimed its software can’t target devices linked to American or Israeli phone numbers.