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18 Jan, 2022 17:05

Police used notorious spyware to snoop on citizens – media inquiry

The surveillance was allegedly done without the required court supervision or authorization
Police used notorious spyware to snoop on citizens – media inquiry

Israeli police have been accused of using the NSO group's Pegasus spyware to conduct warrantless phone intercepts of citizens without the required court authorization, according to an investigation by Tel Aviv-based media.

On Tuesday, Israeli news outlet Calcalist published an investigation into claims the country’s police have used the spyware to remotely hack citizens’ phones. Authorities are accused of controlling the devices and extracting information, despite not having secured warrants.

Individuals who are thought to have been targeted include mayors, protest leaders, former government employees, and a close contact of a senior politician, Calcalist’s investigation said.

Reportedly, “the hacking wasn’t done under court supervision, and police didn’t request a search or bugging warrant to conduct the surveillance.” Moreover, once collected there was apparently no supervision on the data being collected, or how police used or distributed it.

Israeli law currently only permits the nation’s domestic intelligence agency to hack phones without court permission. However, the outlet suggested police may have justified an exemption for it by claiming the technology used is not covered by existing legislation.

Israeli Public Security Minister Omer Barlev has refuted the reports, stating that there was “no practice of secretive wiretapping, or intrusion into devices, by the Israeli police without the approval of a judge.”

Similarly, the country’s police force stated that it has always operated “according to the authority granted to it by law, and when necessary according to court orders."

The allegations published by Calcalist’s investigation follows a report in Haaretz that claimed Israeli police were sent an invoice of 2.7 million shekels ($862,045) by the NSO group in 2013. The invoice was reportedly for the purchase of the Pegasus spyware’s most basic form and later updates were added, Haaretz said, citing a source close to the acquisition.

The NSO Group software gives its users the ability to access the smartphone of a particular target so they can read messages, look through photos, track their location, and even switch on the device’s camera. The company hit the headlines in 2021 when it was reported that, globally, as many as 50,000 phones had been illegally accessed with the malware.