Editorial |

The Police Failed. So Did Calcalist

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NSO Group logo illustration.
NSO Group logo illustration.Credit: Dado Ruvic/ REUTERS

Everyone in the country should be disturbed by the report issued Monday by the Justice Ministry, which examined an Israeli business daily’s allegations that the Israel Police planted spyware on the cellphones of Israelis and collected their personal information. It also obligates two organizations to hold themselves to account and to submit to a public reckoning.

Relying on the records of the police and the NSO Group, whose Pegasus software the force employed, the investigators found no indication that the phones of Israelis were in fact “infected” without a warrant, and the team certainly did not confirm Calcalist’s claims that the mobile devices of 26 Israelis were hacked using the spyware. Nevertheless, the report did reveal the Israel Police’s covert use of Pegasus, despite knowing that its capabilities include the collection of information to which the police are not entitled access, in violation of the court orders obtained by law enforcement.

In fact, for years – and contrary to the law – the police kept information collected from hundreds of suspects’ phones, all without consulting the Justice Ministry or being under its oversight on this matter. In this respect, two organizations failed miserably in protecting the privacy of Israeli citizens: the legal adviser of the police, which allowed the force to possess the world’s most controversial surveillance software and to collect intelligence on thousands of citizens without any supervision; and the State Prosecutor’s Office, which turned a blind eye and was insufficiently alert to this violation of the law governing police activities.

The troubling conclusion is that the supervisory authorities entrusted with upholding the law are the ones who have knowingly violated it for years, thereby severely infringing on the privacy of the state’s citizens. They must be held accountable for it. But Calcalist is also accountable to the public. For weeks, the paper published hair-raising reports painting a shocking picture of a reckless police force with no boundaries that monitors citizens without obtaining warrants, uses Pegasus spyware to tap the phones of ministry directors general, of mayors, protesters and social activists and, in effect, endeavors consistently and systematically to undermine Israeli democracy. The in-depth examination conducted by the team of investigators led by Amit Merari, deputy attorney general for criminal affairs, found all of these allegations to be baseless.

The damage caused by Calcalist is twofold: Its erroneous articles caused severe damage to the public’s trust in the police, while the latest revelations struck a mortal blow to the public’s trust in the press. It is a shame that instead of expressing contrition and admitting its errors, Calcalist is doubling down and pointing only to the failures of the police that were indeed discovered, some of which were not the focus of its articles.

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