Police arrested 22 private investigators on suspicion of installing illegal programs on cell phones that allowed them to eavesdrop on communications of individuals they were monitoring.

Law enforcement has described the affair as a serious violation of democratic norms and privacy laws.

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The programs are specifically designed to be placed on smart phones, police added, allowing the investigators to listen in on conversations, gather information about the calls, and read incoming and outgoing text messages.

Once installed, the device can allow a user to secretly call the targeted party's phone and listen in on calls in real time.

 "Even when the phone is not in use, the device can be used to turn the targeted phone into a transmitter which sends out sounds that are around the phone," police said.

The phone spyware can also record communications such as conversations, GPS coordinates, and text messages, and send them as attachments to Gmail accounts that were opened by the PIs, police added.

Detectives from the Lahav 433 unit and Computer Crimes unit sent undercover agents to gather evidence against 11 private investigators' firms, which were later raided.

The investigators "distributed and installed the programs and even publicized the products on the internet sites of their businesses," police said.

The suspects are set to be charged with illegal installment of devices for the purpose of eavesdropping and invasion of privacy.

"Legislation states that eavesdropping will be permitted only for certain purposes and to a select number of bodies under limiting circumstances," police said.

"The use of eavesdropping tools by private entities outside of the law and without supervision constitutes a violation of democracy… and the fundamental right of all citizens to their privacy," police added.

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