Police Used NSO Spyware to Hack Phones of Israeli Mayors Without Warrant, Report Claims

The police only secured legal backing for the use of NSO's Pegasus spyware after the hacking, and the investigations into the three Israeli mayors were all eventually closed, a new Calcalist report finds

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Police chief Kobi Shabtai last month.
Police chief Kobi Shabtai last month.Credit: Fadi Amun
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Haaretz

The police used NSO's Pegasus spyware to breach the cellphones of three mayors in Israel and their families, receiving a court warrant only after the phones were infiltrated, according to a report Sunday in the business daily Calcalist.

In all three cases, the use of NSO’s Pegasus spyware led to the arrest of the mayors, but all of the cases were closed without indictment. According to the report, in all three cases the police asked the courts for phone-tap warrants only after the phones had been hacked.

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Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev said Sunday that an investigation by the police and the attorney general into recent allegations of police use of the spyware against citizens found that the reports were not true.

In one case, a mayor was suspected of communicating with a contractor to tailor government tender prices. The spyware installed on a mayor's phone produced no evidence, and neither did a subsequent hack into his wife's phone.

Only then did the police request a wiretapping warrant, arguing that their intelligence indicated the mayor was in touch with a contractor through his wife for such criminal purposes. The mayor was arrested, but the case was eventually closed due to lack of evidence.

Though small details differ, in two similar cases, police hacked into two other mayors' phones and those of their family members before requesting a wiretap warrant, says the report. Both mayors were arrested, but the cases were eventually closed.

The police said in response to the report that it “acts only according to the law. All police actions related to the wiretaps are done only through legal warrants signed by a judge. If you have any information that indicates that an offense was allegedly committed, we ask that you convey it as quickly as possible to the authorities.”

In a radio interview on Sunday, Bar-Lev said that "the attorney general determined that in terms of the system and procedures, the police are acting according to law.”

He noted: “It cannot be known whether in the past some incidents or others occurred in which a police official or another exceeded procedures; up until now there has been no sign of this. Nevertheless, the attorney general has appointed a team to review the past two years to ensure this.”

Last week, Calcalist revealed that the police were using spyware to break into the phones of citizens – including those not suspected of criminal activity – without a court order. In response to the report, the police said that it had received approval from a judge for every case cited.

On Thursday, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit informed Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai that he had decided to establish a committee to examine the report's claims.

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