Israel’s parliament is looking into the reported use of tech company NSO Group’s controversial Pegasus spyware against citizens by Israeli police, a legislator said on Tuesday.
According to a report from Israeli newspaper Calcalist, police had NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware in their possession since 2013. The Israeli company is currently on a US government blacklist.
Calcalist said the police weaponized the spyware against specific targets like anti-government protests leaders, sometimes even without the required court warrants.
This report follows allegations in December that Pegasus has been used by some foreign governments to spy on human rights activists, journalists, and politicians.
In response to the Calcalist report, Israeli Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said that the force had in their possession third-party cyber technology, neither confirming nor denying any Pegasus usage.
All police monitoring activity “is carried out according to law … (and) for example, in the case of covert listening, a request is filed with a court, which examines the matter,” he said in a statement.
Shabtai also denied Calcalist’s report that police used spyware against leaders of “Black Flag” protests in 2021 against then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with others.
Legislator Meirav Ben Ari said on an Israel news channel that the parliamentary public security committee she chairs will meet as soon as Monday to question police about the report.
“Many members of parliament have approached me today. This is a very disturbing incident, raising concerns about violation of privacy and democracy as a whole,” Ben Ari said. “The police, as they do whenever they come to my hearings, will explain.”
Pegasus Spyware Customers
NSO Group said it could not confirm or deny any existing or potential Pegasus customers. It also said it does not operate the system once sold to its governmental customers nor is it involved in any way in the system’s operation.
“NSO sells its products under license and regulation to intelligence and law enforcement agencies to prevent terror and crime under court orders and the local laws of their countries,” it said.
In December, a group of US lawmakers urged the Treasury Department and State Department to sanction NSO along with three other foreign surveillance companies they say helped authoritarian governments commit human rights abuses.
In November, tech giant Apple sued NSO Group, saying that the Israeli company violated US laws by breaking into the software installed on iPhones.
Additionally, NSO Group has faced either legal action or criticism from Microsoft, Facebook company Meta Platforms, Google parent company Alphabet Inc, and Cisco Systems Inc.