Police Are Not 'Illegally Spying' on Israelis, Minister Claims Amid NSO Scandal

After report that police used Pegasus spyware to spy on civilians, Public Security Minister Bar-Lev says all claims – except that the police are using 'advanced technology' – are untrue

Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev at a Haaretz conference in Haifa this month.
Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev at a Haaretz conference in Haifa this month. Credit: Fadi Amun

Following damning reports that the Israel Police are using Pegasus software made by NSO Group to collect information on civilians, Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev said that the reports are false on Saturday evening.

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.

Bar-Lev, whose ministry oversees the police, told Channel 12 news, that all of the claims in the Calcalist report, "except for the fact that the Israel Police used advanced technology," are untrue.

He added that Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai told him with certainty that the claims are false. "The central claim that the police are illegally spying is not true," he emphasized.

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

Bar-Lev added, "I'm very happy that the Israel Police has advanced technological tools to help deal with serious crime organizations that are using advanced technology."

Calcalist's report that the police listen in on a person's conversations and only after receive a warrant to do so from the attorney general is unthinkable, Bar-Lev said. "The attorney general said that the police system is operating legally; that doesn't rule out the possibility that in the past, recent or distant, an investigator decided to cut corners. Therefore, the attorney general assembled a panel to investigate."

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said on Friday that the force will keep using its "technological tools," in response to the reports. “I want to you to be rest assured that our legal use of technological tools will continue, and our goal is to continue developing and improving these tools,” Shabtai wrote in an internal police letter.

Shabtai also responded to the announcement by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit that he intended to set up a team to investigate the claims. “The attorney general who looked into the matter, remarked in his letter that no basis had been found for the claims in the reports, and that the police had acted according to the law,” he wrote.

He added that in the wake of the accusations made first by Calcalist, he has sought “to conduct a careful review of the reporter’s claims, and we have yet to find proof that the alleged events ever happened.”

The commissioner stressed: “There is no and has never been a scenario in which the Israel Police have fundamentally and methodically violated the unwritten defense pact between itself and the country’s citizens. … There is no basis to the claims that the police are spying on citizens.”

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