Israel's Attorney General launches probe into misuse of Pegasus spyware by police

PTI | Jerusalem | Updated: 21-01-2022 18:12 IST | Created: 21-01-2022 17:50 IST
Israel's Attorney General launches probe into misuse of Pegasus spyware by police
NSO logo Image Credit: ANI
  • Country:
  • Israel

Israeli spyware company NSO Group has again landed into a controversy with the Attorney General announcing to set up a team to probe into alleged misuse of its snooping Pegasus technology by police against its own citizens, including those not suspected of crime.

The NSO Group hit headlines last year when the alleged use of its Pegasus software to spy on journalists, human rights defenders, politicians and others in a number of countries, including India, triggered concerns over issues relating to privacy.

Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mendelbit on Thursday informed Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai that he would be forming a panel to conduct the probe, following a controversy sparked by a local media report that the police have been using NSO's Pegasus spyware, which gives access to the entire contents of an infected cellphone, to create dossiers on even Israeli citizens who were not facing criminal charges, the Ha'aretz newspaper reported.

The police have acknowledged the use of the spyware after the publication of the investigative report on the snooping, but said that a warrant was given by a court before each instance, it said.

The probe panel will be headed by Deputy Attorney General Amit Harari and will include two other people, the report said.

Mendeliblit, however, in his letter to Shabtai said that an initial probe into the matter ''did not find any basis for fears of illegal, methodical use by the Israel Police of the means at its disposal, and we are satisfied that the Israel Police is acting by virtue of its powers under the law".

The Attorney General requested the police to provide his office with all warrants used for listening in on people's communications from the past two years.

Meanwhile, Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev said that the Attorney General has stated clearly that the police acted in accordance with the law from a systematic perspective.

''In terms of private incidences, there were no deviations found from the legal guidelines. However, there may be specific illegal incidents that occurred and therefore the Attorney General decided to create an investigative team," Bar-Lev said.

The Israeli business daily, Calcalist, in a detailed report earlier this week claimed that police is using the military-grade spyware to collect intelligence and create dossiers as part of early stage investigations on Israelis, even when they are not facing criminal charges.

It is the first time that reports of the spyware being used against Israeli citizens has surfaced, with investigations overseen only by the police, and the use of Pegasus made without a warrant or court order.

According to reports in the Calcalist, a former official of Israel's internal security agency, Shin Bet, who was appointed Israel's police chief was the first to make massive use of the system.

The police first bought the technology in 2013, and it has since been used against a list of targets that includes protest leaders, politicians and others, the report claimed.

The NSO Group and its controversial Pegasus technology, which has grabbed attention of governments and people worldwide with allegations of misuse (REMOVED INDIA FROM HERE), was blacklisted in November last by the United States Department of Commerce for acting "contrary to the foreign policy and national security interests of the US".

Israel distanced itself from the controversy triggered by the blacklisting of the NSO Group after allegations of illegal use of its Pegasus spyware to target government officials, activists and journalists globally, saying it is a private company and has nothing to do with the policies of the Israeli government.

''NSO is a private company, it is not a governmental project and therefore even if it is designated, it has nothing to do with the policies of the Israeli government,'' Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said at a press conference, days after the company was blacklisted by the US Department of Commerce.

The US Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) had added the NSO Group and another Israeli company, Candiru, to the Entity List for engaging in activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.

It said in a statement that they were added to the Entity List based on evidence that it developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that used these tools to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics and embassy workers.

Amid raging controversy worldwide, Israel established a committee last year in July to review the allegations of misuse of the NSO group's surveillance software and hinted at a possible ''review of the whole matter of giving licences''.

NSO's Co-founder and CEO Shalev Hulio had welcomed the move, saying they would "be very pleased if there were an investigation so that we'd be able to clear our name".

Israel's defence ministry in July last year said that Israel only permits companies to export cybersecurity products to "government figures only for legal purposes and to prevent and investigate crimes and to combat terrorism. And this is dependent upon commitments regarding the end use/user from the purchasing country, which must abide by these conditions".

Later, reports of the committee members ''raiding'' NSO's facilities was widely reported in the media.

The company has maintained that its spyware is used by its government clients to target terrorists and other serious crimes.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

Give Feedback