Israel to probe allegations of Pegasus spyware use against own citizens

WION Web Team
New Delhi Updated: Jan 19, 2022, 07:35 PM(IST)

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Israeli cyber firm NSO Group is seen at one of its branches in the Arava Desert, southern Israel July 22, 2021 Photograph:( Reuters )

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There are allegations that Pegasus spyware was used to spy on Israelis who led protests against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israel's justice minister on Wednesday said that a full investigation would be carried out into allegations that Pegasus spyware was used to spy on Israeli citizens, including those who protested against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Pegasus, a surveillance product made by the Israeli firm NSO that can turn a mobile phone into a pocket spying device, has remained a source of global controversy following revelations last year it was used to spy on journalists and dissidents worldwide. 

Business daily Cakcalist has alleged that Pegasus was also used by police in Israel to snoop on Israeli citizens who were at the forefront of anti-Netanyahu protests last year. The daily alleges that other Israeli citizens were also spied upon.

Israeli police have firmly denied the report. 

Public Security Minister Omar Barlev, a Netanyahu critic who took office as part of a new government that ousted him in June, offered a more nuanced defence. 

There was "no practice of wire-tapping or hacking devices by police without a judge's approval", he said.

Israeli security forces have wide leeway to conduct surveillance within Israel with judicial approval. 

But Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, an expert at the Israel Democracy Institute think-tank, told AFP "you can't really ask for a court order authorising Pegasus" because Israeli law does not currently permit such invasive surveillance of its citizens.

"It is now clear that the current Protection of Privacy Law is not equipped to cope with today’s reality," she said. 

'Balance'? 

The justice ministry and State Comptroller's office both said they were looking into the Calcalist reports. 

The Privacy Protection Authority, a division of the ministry, said use of Pegasus to monitor Israeli citizens" would constitute a "serious violation of privacy", announcing its investigation.

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman said Tuesday he would expand his ongoing investigation into law enforcement's use of surveillance technology to include the latest Pegasus allegations. 

He would in particular probe "the balance" between the "usefulness" of surveillance tools in investigations and "violations of the right to privacy".
Justice Minister Gideon Saar, another Netanyahu rival, told parliament Wednesday that he fully backed the probes. 

(With inputs from agencies)

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