Police use of Pegasus malware not illegal, Israeli inquiry finds

An inquiry into allegations that Israel’s police force systematically hacked into the mobile phones of Israeli citizens has found that while the police did use NSO Group’s controversial Pegasus malware, there is no evidence suggesting illegality.

In a series of explosive reports over the last two months, the local financial daily Calcalist accused the police of spying on at least 26 individuals who were not criminal suspects. Those named included politicians, protesters, and members of the former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner circle – claims Netanyahu used to delay proceedings in his corruption trial.

Israel’s attorney general’s office ordered an investigation into the alleged police behaviour last month. On Monday, the Israeli justice ministry contradicted the most serious of the newspaper’s claims, saying an interim inquiry discovered “no indication” that the police had bypassed judicial authorisation in using the spyware.

In two instances, unsuccessful attempts were made to hack the phones of people subject to court orders authorising the tracking of their electronic communications, and in a third case the police succeeded, the probe found. It also said investigators looked into the use of a second type of spyware available to police and again found no signs of wrongdoing.

The announcement still represents the first time the Israeli government has confirmed that Pegasus has been deployed against a citizen.

A consortium of 17 media outlets, including the Guardian, revealed last year that the Israeli-made surveillance product had been sold to repressive governments worldwide and used to surveil activists, journalists and lawyers, as well as government officials and heads of state.

NSO has previously said that all its sales are government-authorised and that it does not itself run Pegasus.

Israel says it has since tightened rules on the export of cyberweapons, and NSO was blacklisted by the US in November.

The Israeli state and private…

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Read full story at the guardian.com

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