Israeli Police Say They Use NSO Spyware Only After Receiving Courts’ Consent

Israel Police deny claims of using NSO's spyware against civilians without a warrant and say that ongoing use of hacking tool is always authorized

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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Israel Police forces deployed in Jerusalem during a protest in November.
Israel Police forces deployed in Jerusalem during a protest in November. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

The Israel Police is using NSO spyware dozens of times every year to tap suspects’ phones, but they have always done so with a warrant issued by a district court and under no circumstances did they take data from the phones, police officials told Haaretz on Wednesday.

Following a report published Tuesday on the news site Calcalist alleging police used the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware without court authorization, the police launched an investigation into how it made use of the spyware after it was first acquired in late 2013 and deployed the following year. The findings are expected to be given to the attorney general as well as to the public security minister.

Among other things, the police are examining whether the spyware was only used after a search warrant was issued by a district court president or vice president, as the undercover surveillance law requires. Several police officials said that so far no cases have been found of unauthorized usage and that they are certain that the findings will show that no one broke the law.

Read more >> NSO Spyware Targeted Yemen War Crimes Investigator, Report Says The Israeli cyber weapon used against 180 journalists Israeli NSO Spyware Found on Phones of U.S. State Department OfficialsApple Sues Israeli Spyware Firm NSO Over Surveillance of UsersHow Israeli Spy-tech Became Dictators' Weapon of ChoiceTwo UAE Princes Each Got Their Own Personal NSO SpywareGlobal Reckoning Begins for Spyware and Its Tools of Repression

“The police without question use advanced technology, otherwise how can the public expect us to catch murderers, rapists or fight organized crime. But we don’t always make use of the capabilities the system has to offer for the simple reason that we don’t have the authority to do so. It’s like buying a Mercedes that can reach a speed of 200 kilometers per hour, but you never exceed 100,” said one official.

Another law enforcement official cited two examples of instances when the spyware was used – the first in a murder case in the Arab community that was solved with evidence obtained by wiretapping and the other a bribery probe involving tenders issued by an unnamed local government, which is still under investigation. The police declined to confirm the cases.

The Knesset Public Security Committee, headed by Yesh Atid lawmaker Merav Ben Ari, will hold an urgent meeting on “allegations of use by the Israel Police of the Pegasus program.” Yigal Ben-Shalom, the head of the police investigations and its intelligence branch, is expected to appear, along with the police legal adviser Elazar Kahana.

On Tuesday, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said that "Israel Police doesn't use its advanced technological capabilities against innocent citizens and protesters.” He specifically denied that the spyware was used against anti-Netanyahu protesters, mayors, and anti-LGBTQ activists

Police and press at a protest in the West Bank in MayCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg

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