Israeli minister defends police over alleged spying on Pegasus | Israel


Israel’s Public Security Minister has expressed strong support for the country’s police after allegations they used NSO Group’s controversial Pegasus software to spy on Israeli citizens.

In an interview with The Guardian on Wednesday, Omer Barlev, the minister responsible for police, denied claims made this week by the Hebrew-language financial daily Calcalist that the phones of people who led protests against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been hacked or monitored by the police.

“It’s not true, what was mentioned in the newspaper. Corn [the technology] is not the problem. The question is whether the police got legal permission from a judge to use it,” he said.

“The right to demonstrate is a fundamental right, it is not a crime. It’s not that the police wanted to tap the phones of people who were involved in rioting and they went to the judge, and the judge didn’t give permission. The police didn’t even ask to do it once.

Barlev clarified, however, that the ministry’s next steps on the matter would be determined by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s preliminary assessment.

“I’m waiting to hear what Mandelblit will say. After that, if I’m not 98% convinced — because there’s no 100% conviction — I’ll think about how to handle the situation,” he said.

A consortium of 17 news outlets, including the Guardian, revealed last year that Pegasus, an Israeli-made surveillance product that can turn a cellphone into a pocket-sized spy device, had been sold to repressive governments around the world . The investigation revealed that the spyware had been used to monitor human rights activists, journalists and lawyers, as well as government officials and heads of state.

Israel says it has since tightened rules on exporting cyber weapons, and NSO was blacklisted by the United States in November.

The Israeli state and private companies have developed sophisticated surveillance systems to monitor the activities of people in the occupied Palestinian territories, where Israel enforces military law. However, senior NSO officials previously said its software was not authorized for use with Israeli and US phone numbers.

Tuesday’s article in Calcalist alleged that police used Pegasus against citizens at the forefront of protests against Netanyahu last year when he was still prime minister, as well as mayors and former employees. of the government. According to the report, the surveillance was carried out without judicial oversight and without control over how the data was used. The allegations were denied by the police.

In a statement released by NSO after the report, the company reiterated its longstanding assertion that it has no influence over how its customers use its spyware.

A separate report in the Haaretz daily, based on a bill seen by the newspaper, suggests the Israel Police were billed by the NSO Group for 2.7 million shekels (£635,000) in 2013, reportedly for a basic version from the program. NSO has neither confirmed nor denied selling technology to the Israel Police.

The allegations sparked outrage across the Israeli political spectrum and led to promises of a “full investigation” by Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar. The state comptroller’s office also said it was looking into the matter.

On Wednesday, the Ynet news site went on to claim that Pegasus had been used for investigations into the corruption case of Likud party Knesset member David Bitan.

While the majority of the new allegations correlate to the tenure of the previous Israeli government, Barlev, a critic of Netanyahu who took office under a new government that toppled him in June, said he thought the police had “told him the truth”. if they had used Pegasus on Israeli citizens.

“There can always be an exceptional case, that one or two try to circumvent the rules. So first of all, if that happened, it’s illegal. And second, that’s what’s checked.

“If what happened is really what was described in the newspaper, it is unforgivable.”

Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, an expert at the Israel Democracy Institute think tank, said, “You can’t really ask for a court order authorizing Pegasus” because Israeli law does not currently allow such invasive surveillance of its citizens.

“It is now clear that current privacy law is not equipped to deal with today’s reality,” she told Agence France-Presse.


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