Police use Israel's NSO to target politicians, businessmen, journalists - report

A new report added a slew of businessmen, protest leaders and politicians to the list of alleged police wiretapping targets.

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

The list of people police allegedly targeted with the Israeli NSO Group's Pegasus spyware grew on Monday, with a Calcalist report claiming that a slew of politicians, government ministry director generals, businessmen, protest leaders, mayors and journalists had the technology secretly installed on their phones.

The Pegasus spyware is capable of remotely extracting information from targets' cell phones covertly, including texts, browser history, call history and screenshots, among other information.

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The new report by Calcalist claims that the police's special operations cyber unit used Pegasus for years against civilians without obtaining court approval and in direct violation of the law. The technology was used for intelligence gathering and not for gathering evidence.

According to the report, police analysts rummaged through data obtained from the phones and listened on private conversations as well. The information was then passed on to investigators without the source being mentioned, usually being explained away as a "one-time source" or "incidental information."

Last week, the Israel Police announced that it had found new pieces of evidence which "change the state of affairs" regarding the probe into allegations that it had used wiretapping software without court approval, with a Walla report stating that while evidence had been found of possibly unapproved wiretapping, the software used was not Pegasus, developed by NSO.

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)

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit's office announced on Tuesday 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.

Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai responded to the report on Monday, urging Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev to order the formation of an external and independent judicial review committee to examine the issue "in order to restore the public's trust in Israel Police on the one hand and to regulate the use of technologies in Israel Police on the other."

Calcalist had reported a few weeks ago that police had used the software against anti-Netanyahu protest leaders, people who opposed the LGBTQ+ pride parade and mayors.

The new report published on Monday adds to the list, including the following groups and people who were allegedly targeted by police:

- Avner Netanyahu, son of opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu- Rami Levy, founder of the Israeli supermarket chain by the same name- Former director-generals of the Finance Ministrty Keren Turner Eyal and Shai Babad- Former director-general of the Justice Ministry Emi Palmor- The "Disabled Become Panthers" protest leaders- Ethiopian anti-police brutality protest leaders- Yair Katz, chairman of the workers' union at Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI)- Aviram Elad, CEO of Channel 13 news- Elan Yeshua, former CEO of Walla- Stella Handler, former CEO of Bezeq- Avi Berger, former director-general of the Communications Ministry- Dudu Mizrahi, CEO of Bezeq- Iris Elovitch, wife of Shaul who owned Bezeq in the past- Shlomo Filber, former director-general of the Communications Ministry- Yoram Shimon, head of the Mivaseret Tzion council- Miriam Feirberg, mayor of Netanya- Ya'acov Peretz, mayor of Kiryat Ata- Moti Sason, mayor of Holon