Police: 'There is no proof to spyware allegations, everything was legal'

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit said initial examination did not turn up evidence of systemic misuse of surveillance technologies.

Avicahi Mandelblit (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
Avicahi Mandelblit
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

Police commissioner Kobi Shabtai slammed reports on illegal police usage of spyware technology as being without evidence and stated that everything that was done was legal.

In a statement issued to police on Friday, Shabtai denied any wrongdoing and lambasted the press for allegations made, as "so far we have not found any proof that the things as published actually happened."

He added that "there is not and never has been a scenario in which the Israel Police violated the privacy of innocent civilians and demonstrators in an institutionalized and systematic matter."

Everything the police did, he said, was done properly with the necessary legal approvals and permissions. Not only that, but the police have no plans on stopping what he claims are legally approved measures.

"Our use of technological tools in accordance with the law will continue, and our goal is to continue developing and upgrading these tools even further," Shabtai said. 

"A police force that seeks to be relevant in the fight against crime must do so."

 The letter comes after Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit ordered an investigation into police surveillance tactics amid reports that law enforcement improperly used a disputed hacking tool.

A report by the Calcalist financial daily describing misuse by police of the Pegasus spyware made by Israel's NSO Group - a company now on a US government blacklist - has already spurred parliament to seek an explanation from police officials.

In a letter to the police commissioner made public, Mandelblit said an initial examination into the matter did not turn up evidence of systemic misuse of surveillance technologies.

He said it was a challenge, however, to track down specific cases described in the media due to the lack of identifying information.

Calcalist, without citing sources, reported that police used Pegasus against targets including anti-government protest leaders, sometimes without the required court warrants.

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 (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 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

"It is difficult to overstate the seriousness of the alleged violation of fundamental rights," Mandelblit said.

The report added a new domestic angle to global pressure on Israel following allegations that Pegasus has been abused by some foreign client governments to spy on human rights activists, journalists and politicians.

Mandelblit said he had formed a team led by his deputy to investigate the issue "in a systematic and thorough manner."

NSO has said it could not confirm or deny any existing or potential customers. It says it does not operate the system once sold to its governmental customers nor is it involved in any way in the system’s operation.