Israeli Police Didn’t Use Spyware Without a Warrant, Investigative Team Concludes

The attorney general is expected to present the findings to Bennett in the coming days, which will likely show that police had court authorization to use spyware, but sometimes exceeded the powers of the warrant

Chen Maanit
Chen Maanit
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The headquarters of Police Unit 433 in Lod, in 2019.
The headquarters of Police Unit 433 in Lod, in 2019.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Chen Maanit
Chen Maanit

Findings from the committee probing the Israel Police’s use of spyware are expected to show that the police’s phone tapping, in certain cases, exceeded the bounds of the warrants they were provided by the court. The committee will likely recommend that the police regulate their procedures regarding such technology.

The committee, led by Deputy Attorney General Amit Merari, submitted their findings to the attorney general late last week, and Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara is expected to present them to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the coming days.

The findings resemble those from the cases against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as reported last week. In that case, an investigation found that the police did not use spyware without a warrant and did not surveil people who were not criminal suspects. This contradicts the report by the financial daily Calcalist, which led to the probe. According to the Calcalist report, the police surveilled a host of figures, including activists in protests by Ethiopian-Israeli activists, director generals of government ministries and others, all without warrants.

Last week the prosecution in the Netanyahu case informed the Jerusalem District Court that the phone of a state’s witness – former Communications Ministry Director General Shlomo Filber – had been infected with spyware. The prosecution also said that the police tried and failed to extract information from the cellphone of co-defendant Iris Elovitch, the wife of the former controlling owner of the telecommunications giant Bezeq.

The prosecution told the court that spyware was used on Filber’s phone for over 24 hours, but “an examination of all products of the wiretap revealed no material that could have relevance to the case.” According to the prosecution, actions were taken on Filber’s phone that were not permitted by the wiretap warrant, including copying his list of contacts and other information.

According to the prosecution, an investigation by the police showed that a special wiretap order had been issued, but was not applied, for an additional witness in the Netanyahu cases. The prosecution said that the warrant was issued in conjunction with another case in which the same witness was a suspect.

The three defendants, Netanyahu and the Elovitches, petitioned the district court to order the prosecution to hand over the material that was extracted from Filber’s cellphone. The three have also demanded the requests for the wiretap warrants on Filber’s phone and Iris Elovitch’s phones, the latter of which was unsuccessfully hacked, as well as the warrants themselves. The defendants have also demanded that they receive information on the wiretap and on an attempt to hack the telephone of the other witness. The court is expected to discuss their petition on Monday.

Merari’s team includes experts who formerly worked for the Mossad and the Shin Bet security service. The probe was carried out in cooperation with the police and with NSO, the Israeli company that manufactured the spyware. Officials in the Justice Ministry said that the team does not have sufficient authority, and that their probe relies of the good will of the police to cooperate in the investigation.

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