By Steven Scheer
JERUSALEM – The Israeli official in charge of police pledged on Tuesday to ensure that electronic surveillance in criminal investigations is conducted by the book after a newspaper reported illicit use of a controversial hacking tool against citizens of the country.
Without citing sources, the Calcalist financial daily said Israeli police have possessed the Pegasus spyware made by Israel’s NSO Group – which is now on a U.S. government black list — since 2013.
Calcalist said the police used it against targets including anti-government protest leaders, sometimes without the required court warrants.
The report added a new domestic angle to global pressure on Israel following allegations that Pegasus has been abused by some foreign client governments to spy on human rights activists, journalists and politicians.
Responding to the Calcalist report, Israeli police did not confirm or deny using Pegasus, but said in a statement that “all activity in this realm is in accordance with the law, on the basis of court warrants and strict working protocols”.
Internal Security Minister Omer Barlev echoed the assertion.
“With that said,” he added on Twitter, “I intend to ensure that no corners are cut when it comes to NSO and that everything is examined and explicitly approved by a judge.”
NSO said it could not confirm or deny any existing or potential customers. It 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.
“The company’s employees are not exposed to its customers’ targets, nor are they privy to the collected data, the ongoing operations or any other investigations by its customers,” NSO said.
“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.”
Last month, a group of U.S. lawmakers asked the Treasury Department and State Department to sanction NSO and three other foreign surveillance companies they say helped authoritarian governments commit human rights abuses.
In November, Apple sued NSO, saying that it violated U.S. laws by breaking into the software installed on iPhones.
NSO has also faced either legal action or criticism from Microsoft Corp, Meta Platforms Inc, Alphabet Inc and Cisco Systems Inc.