Pegasus: Israeli probe finds no sign of police abuse in spyware case

Deepak Gupta February 22, 2022
Updated 2022/02/22 at 6:00 AM

An Israeli investigation has found “no indication” that police illegally hacked into the cell phones of dozens of public figures, the Justice Ministry announced on Monday, contradicting key allegations in a series of explosive investigative reports in a major Israeli newspaper. .

Israel’s attorney general ordered the investigation last month following unsourced reports from the Calcalist newspaper that the police were spying on politicians, protesters and even members of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner circle, including one of his own. sons.

The newspaper said the police used Pegasus, a controversial spyware program developed by the Israeli company NSO Group, without obtaining a warrant.

In its announcement, the Ministry of Justice said that the investigation led by the country’s deputy attorney general found no evidence to support the allegations.

“There is no indication that the police deployed the Pegasus software without a court order against people on the list published in the media,” he said, adding that security experts from the NSO and the government helped with the investigation.

The investigation found that the police received authorization to spy on the phones of three of the people on the list, but only one was successfully infiltrated. He said investigators had investigated the use of a second type of spyware used by the police and also found no signs of wrongdoing.

The calcalist reports provoked a public uproar. Current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has said the allegations are “very serious”, and Netanyahu, who is on trial for alleged corruption, has demanded a “strong and independent investigation” as he tries to cast doubt on the allegations against him. The country’s public security minister, who oversees the police force, also formed a high-level government commission of inquiry.

Police officers, former and current, have denied any wrongdoing. These denials, along with the lack of evidence uncovered so far, have begun to attract scrutiny in Calcalist’s reports.

His reporter, Tomer Ganon, kept his job. Over the weekend, he said he would continue to protect his sources. “I risked my good name not out of naivety but because I checked the facts,” he wrote on Twitter.

Pegasus is a powerful tool that allows its operator to infiltrate a target’s phone and scan its contents, including messages, contacts and location history.

For NSO, which has faced mounting criticism over Pegasus, Monday’s report was rare good news. He said he hoped the findings “will result in reports that no longer rely on disinformation and political organizations issuing biased and biased reports.”

The NSO has been associated with snooping around human rights activists, journalists and politicians in countries ranging from Saudi Arabia to Poland, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates. In November, the US Commerce Department blacklisted the company, saying its tools had been used to “conduct transnational repression”.

NSO says it only sells the product to government entities to fight crime and terrorism, with all sales regulated by the Israeli government.

The company does not identify its customers and says it has no knowledge of who the target is. While it says it has safeguards in place to prevent abuse, it says it ultimately doesn’t control how its customers use the software.

The NSO said the misuse of spyware “is a serious matter and all credible allegations must be investigated.” He called for “an international regulatory framework” to be put in place to “oversee issues raised by the misuse of cyber-intelligence tools”.

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