Israel’s Attorney General Sets Up Team to Look Into Police Use of NSO Spyware

Mendelblit writes to police commissioner that a preliminary probe has so far not found proof of methodical, illegal use of the tools it has

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
Avichai Mendelblit speaks at a legal conference in Haifa, November.
Avichai Mendelblit speaks at a legal conference in Haifa, November.Credit: Fadi Amun
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announced Thursday a probe into police use of NSO spyware against Israeli citizens in light of reports earlier in the week which revealed the Pegasus technology was used against citizens, including those not suspected of crime.

Mendeblit informed Kobi Shabtai that he would be forming a panel to conduct the probe, following controversy sparked by a 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 Israelis who were not facing criminal charges.

The police have acknowledged use of the spyware after the report, but said a warrant was given by a court before each instance.

The three-member panel will be headed by Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Matters Amit Merari.

Mendeliblit wrote in his letter to Shabtai that in an initial probe, “we 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 in the letter that the police provide his office with all warrants used for listening in on people's communications from the past two years.

Regarding the probe, Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev said: “The attorney general has stated clearly – 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 incidences that occurred and therefore the attorney general decided to create an investigative team,” he added.

The Israeli business daily Calcalist revealed this week how the police are 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.

This was the first indication that the spyware was being used against Israeli citizens, with investigations overseen only by the police, and the use of Pegasus made without a warrant or court order.

According to the reports in Calcalist, a former Shin Bet official who was appointed Israel’s police chief was the first to make massive use of the system, which the police first bought in 2013, and it has since been used against a list of targets that includes protest leaders, politicians and others.

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