Ex-minister Says He Didn't Know Israel Police Used NSO Spyware

Police use of NSO's spyware was never 'brought to my attention,' former minister Amir Ohana says ■ Public security minister orders staff to look into existing wiretapping laws

Lawmaker Amir Ohana in a right-wing protest in Tel Aviv in July.
Lawmaker Amir Ohana in a right-wing protest in Tel Aviv in July.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

A former Israeli minister said Monday that during his terms he wasn't informed that the police employed NSO's Pegasus software to collect information on civilians, following damning reports of such use by the force.

Former Public Security and Justice Minister Amir Ohana told the Knesset's Public Security Committee that police's use of NSO's spyware was never "brought to his attention," during his tenure.

An Israeli financial daily reported last week that police has been using NSO spyware on a list of targets since 2013. The list includes protest leaders and politicians. It was the first indication that the software was being used against Israelis, with investigations overseen only by the police and without a warrant or court order.

Also on Monday, Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev instructed his staff to examine the possibility of revising the rules that regulate wiretapping and phone searching of suspects. "The existing legal regulations are old," Bar-Lev said, mentioning rapid technological advancement as the main cause "in case a revision is required."

Bar-Lev, whose ministry oversees the police, told Channel 12 news Saturday that all the reports, "except for the fact that the Israel Police used advanced technology," are untrue. "The central claim that the police are illegally spying is not true," he emphasized.

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

The Pegasus spyware allows its operators to remotely access mobile phones infected with the software. Sold to intelligence and law enforcement agencies across the world, the spyware exploits security vulnerabilities in Android and iPhone operating systems to gain access to the device's contents – from messages to photos. The program also enables remote activation of the phone’s camera and microphone, without the victim's knowledge.

On Thursday, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announced a probe into police use of NSO spyware against Israelis. Mendeblit informed Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai that he would be forming a panel to conduct the probe. The police have acknowledged use of the spyware after the report, but said a warrant was given by a court before each instance.

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