update deskIsrael News

Panel to probe Israel Police’s use of Pegasus spyware

The committee will be established despite the objections of the attorney general.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin speaks during a committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Jan. 11, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Justice Minister Yariv Levin speaks during a committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Jan. 11, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

The Israeli Cabinet voted at its weekly meeting on Sunday to establish a committee tasked with examining law enforcement’s use of spyware technology.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin announced plans in July to establish the panel to probe police surveillance methods employing cyber tools following last year’s scandal involving Pegasus spyware from the Israeli firm NSO. The committee will also investigate the conduct of prosecutors.

“The spyware affair is one of the most serious ones exposed in recent years. Exposing the truth in the matter, and preventing similar incidents of fatal infringement of Israeli citizens’ right to privacy, is vital and extremely important,” Levin said in a statement following the committee’s approval on Sunday.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara wrote a letter to Levin last week opposing the establishment of the panel, claiming that the minister is exceeding his authority. She also expressed concern that it could interfere with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trial.

The premier was not present during Sunday’s discussion due to the issue of the trial. Supporters of Netanyahu say improper methods were used in the investigation into his actions.

Calcalist reported in January 2022 that NSO’s Pegasus spyware had been used to hack the phones of mayors, government employees, anti-Netanyahu activists and “a person close to a senior politician.” No court warrants were requested for any of the hacks, nor were they carried out under court supervision, according to the report.

Police initially denied the claims in the report and a February 2022 Justice Ministry investigation into the alleged abuse found no indication that the police illegally hacked the mobile phones of dozens of public figures.

An in-depth investigation into the matter by a team appointed by the attorney general also found that the Israel Police did not illegally hack phones, although the force did exceed its authority. The Merari Report published its conclusions in August 2022.

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