Editorial |

Pegasus Snooping Spared No One, and Israel Police Fail to See What's Wrong

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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev, and the Commissioner of Police Kobi Shabtai in November.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev, and the Commissioner of Police Kobi Shabtai in November.Credit: Rami Shllush

The investigative report by Calcalist that revealed surveillance by the police of unprecedented scope against state employees, elected officials and other Israeli citizens shows that the Israel Police have no restraint. According to the report, use of the NSO Group’s spyware was not limited to investigating serious crimes including pedophilia, as the police have tried to convince the public, but rather became a daily investigative tool used against citizens.

The surveillance with Pegasus and similar tools must end immediately and at the same time, a state commission of inquiry, led by a judge, must be appointed to investigate the use of these technologies and prosecute the offenders.

From Israel’s most disadvantaged communities to its most powerful, no one was immune from tracking: leaders of the protests by Ethiopian immigrants and their descendants, by people with disabilities and the Black Flag protesters; settlers protesting outpost evacuations; journalists, mayors, company heads, government ministry directors general and the people closest to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The tracking, which was dryly termed “technological and data-oriented policing,” occurred in some cases where there was no cause for eavesdropping. In some cases they undermined democracy itself: attempts to uncover plans by activists to block intersections or the source of leaks to journalists; “verifying the reliability of witnesses” and fishing for embarrassing information. Instead of an accepted investigation protocol, the police chose to take shortcuts and hack citizens’ phones. This is not how the police behave in a democracy.

A future state commission of inquiry must have members who are independent – as opposed to a parliamentary commission of inquiry or a government commission of inquiry, as the police chief and several lawmakers have proposed – and it needs the widest investigatory powers. It must quickly and transparently investigate who approved the police’s use of the spyware, when, under what authority, for which actions, whether laws were broken and whether the judges who signed the orders were aware of this use.

In Knesset committee discussions on the matter over the past few weeks, the police asked “not to throw the baby out with the bathwater” and for laws to be updated to permit them to use advanced technology. Several committee heads expressed support for this stance, instead of noting that the police had overstepped the legal authority given to them by the Knesset, which makes the laws. The police’s line of defense must be rejected absolutely. NSO’s spyware and its ilk are not legitimate tools for tracking citizens in a democratic country. The fact that the police struggle to comprehend the scope of the failure emphasizes the burning need to overhaul the police and prosecute the lawbreakers.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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