Outlaw NSO's Pegasus Spyware Now

Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial
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Smartphone with the website of Israel's NSO Group which features 'Pegasus' spyware
Smartphone with the website of Israel's NSO Group which features 'Pegasus' spywareCredit: JOEL SAGET / AFP
Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

The use of NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware against Israeli citizens, including mayors, suspected criminals and activists in the Black Flags protest movement, if it indeed happened as was alleged in an investigation by Calcalist’s CTech technology site, is anti-democratic and unconstitutional. The real black flags are not the activists, but rather those flying above a clearly illegal act by the Israel Police.

Pegasus is a software program whose damage to basic rights – to privacy, to freedom of expression, of protest and of association – is far greater than that caused by the invasive investigative tools of the police, such as phone location tracking, wiretapping, searches or computer hacking. Pegasus is all of these, and more: It makes it possible to hack a cellphone without its owner’s knowledge, to copy its data, track its location, access its microphone and camera, conversations, text correspondence and more. All these give the police entry to every facet of their targets, far beyond the needs of the investigation.

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The police claim that their activity was conducted under the supervision of the attorney general and was approved through court orders, but judges cannot approve the use of software without explicit consent in law. Even Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai’s statement that “Israel Police does not use its advanced technological capabilities against innocent civilians and protesters,” is insufficient, since the organization that decides whether people are “innocent citizens” is the police force itself. So when it comes to citizens who are not "innocent,” Shabtai’s remarks should be seen as confirmation of the investigation’s findings. Likewise, the court's spokesperson said it was unfamiliar with requests to use Pegasus.

The results of the use of Pegasus have been published throughout the world. The software was sold with the state’s approval to authoritarian regimes, ostensibly for the purpose of preventing crime and terrorism, but in fact used by them to surveil human rights activists, journalists and dissidents. The Palestinian Foreign Ministry recently claimed the software was found on the cellphones of three senior Palestinian Authority officials.

Now it turns out that, in contrast to NSO’s claim that Israeli phones cannot be targeted for surveillance by Pegasus, Israeli activists engaged in democratic protest are also an acceptable target. As with the COVID location tracking “tool” of the Shin Bet security service, so too with Pegasus: We should not be surprised that tools used by Israel to perpetuate its control over the Palestinians or for war against its enemies throughout the world are ultimately directed inward, against its citizens.

Israel is becoming a state of serial surveillance and lawbreaking, that uses powerful means which place Israeli citizens under invasive and continual surveillance. The use of Pegasus should be discontinued immediately, it should be outlawed, and we should investigate how and by whom the software was approved for use against citizens, and whether the political leadership knew about it.

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

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