Israeli government reacts to claims police snooped on own citizens
The Israeli government has launched investigations into reports about the country’s police allegedly using NSO group’s Pegasus software to illegally intercept citizens’ calls.The information was reported on Tuesday by news daily Calcalist. Law enforcement, as well as Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, categorically denied the accusations, saying that the police had always followed the rule of law.
However, on Wednesday, the country’s justice minister Gideon Sa’ar admitted that there was “an unbridgeable gap” between the allegations in Calcalist and the police’s statements.
“The State Comptroller, as an independent official, did well to take it upon himself to examine [the matter], and I am told that an inquiry is also being conducted by the Attorney General,” Sa’ar said in a meeting of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.
The State Comptroller’s office – the body that oversees the policies and operations of the government – has said in a statement that its head, Matanyahu Englman, has already been conducting a review of the use of technologies by the police.
“As part of this review, the alleged use of software, including NSO software, to hack into citizens’ cellphones will be reviewed,” reads the statement quoted by Israeli media.
Englman pledged to pay special attention to the issue of Israeli citizens’ protection of privacy.
In its turn, the Privacy Protection Authority, a division of the Ministry of Justice, has also announced its investigation, saying that use of Pegasus for surveillance over Israeli citizens would constitute a “serious violation of privacy.”
According to Calcalist’s report, the police have been using Pegasus software since late 2013. The newspaper claims that “high-ranking police officers” were behind the order to carry out the surveillance of Israeli citizens “who were not criminals or suspects.”
In another article, published on Wednesday, the outlet went further by saying that the “police’s cyber division employs external hackers to collect intelligence.”
Pegasus software allows users to access messages and photos on smartphones, to track their location, and even to switch on the devices’ cameras. In Israel, only domestic intelligence is allowed to access citizens’ phones without court permission. However, Calcalist suggested that the police could have justified the use of Pegasus’ by a legal loophole: this spyware was not covered by previous laws as it was newer.