Israel Police zigzag on NSO affair: New findings change 'state of affairs'

Police had come under fire for allegedly using spyware like NSO's Pegasus against Israeli citizens without authority.

Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai and head of Jerusalem police district Doron Turgeman meet with press near the Damascus gate, following the recent days of clashes between jewish right-wing extremists and Palestinians, April 24, 2021 (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai and head of Jerusalem police district Doron Turgeman meet with press near the Damascus gate, following the recent days of clashes between jewish right-wing extremists and Palestinians, April 24, 2021
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The Israel Police announced on Tuesday that it has found new pieces of evidence which "change the state of affairs" regarding the investigation into allegations that police had used wiretapping software without court approval.

The Police statement explained that while an initial examination had been presented to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit earlier in the month claiming that spyware was not used against Israelis without proper authorization, in a later examination "additional findings were discovered that change the state of affairs in certain aspects."

The attorney-general instructed the Police to take immediate steps to prevent the possibility of bypassing authorization steps and it confirmed that it will act accordingly.

Earlier this month, a Calcalist report claimed that Israel Police had used the NSO Group's Pegasus hacking technology against Israeli citizens without court approvals. Insp.-Gen. Kobi Shabtai claimed at the time that anytime the police might use advanced technologies, such as for hacking cellphones, proper legal approval was obtained.

Walla News reported on Tuesday that a possible unauthorized use of wiretapping software had been found by police concerning one criminal case which took place a number of years ago. The software used in the case in question was made by another company, not NSO.

Shadowy figure uses cell phone (illustrative) (credit: INGIMAGE)Shadowy figure uses cell phone (illustrative) (credit: INGIMAGE)

Mandelblit's office announced on Tuesday as well that he had appointed a team to investigate the wiretapping allegations, to be headed by Deputy Attorney-General Amit Marari. The team will submit its findings by July 1. The statement by Mandelblit's office noted that additional findings had been revealed by the Police.

If the team finds misconduct that may constitute a criminal offense, the findings will be transferred to the competent authorities.

On Tuesday evening, MK Gilad Kariv, chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, wrote on Facebook that "disturbing findings" had been presented to the committee concerning the use of technological tools for wiretapping by police.

Kariv added that he had insisted that it was not possible to wait until the team investigating the allegations finishes its work in July, saying that the Justice Ministry should present interim findings within the next few weeks.

While many reports in Israeli media headlined that police had confirmed that they had used wiretapping software outside of its authorized use, no statement released by them or the attorney-general on Tuesday explicitly stated that there had been any form of unauthorized use of such software.