Police used Pegasus to hack into phones of prominent Israelis: Report | News

The targets include former Prime Minister Netanyahu’s son, two aides and two former officials suspected of leaking information to the media.

Israeli police used the Pegasus spyware to hack into the phones of dozens of prominent Israelis – including a son of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – activists and senior government officials, an Israeli newspaper reported.

Monday’s revelation is the latest from the business daily Calcalist, which previously reported that police used Pegasus without court authorization against leaders of an anti-Netanyahu protest movement.

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said “following recent publications” he had asked Public Security Minister Omer Barlev to establish “an external and independent commission of inquiry, headed by a judge”, to investigate the allegations.

“To the extent that the commission discovers irregularities and shortcomings, they will be dealt with in accordance with the law,” Shabtai said in a statement on Monday, adding that the incidents Calcalist cited predated his appointment in 2021.

Pegasus is a malicious product manufactured by the Israeli company NSO that can turn on a phone’s camera or microphone and harvest its data.

It was at the center of an international scandal that spanned months following revelations that it was used by governments around the world to spy on activists, politicians, journalists and even heads of state.

Israel had been criticized for allowing the export of the invasive technology to states with poor human rights records, but the calcalist revelations sparked a national scandal and multiple state investigations.

Ahead of Monday’s report, the attorney general, state comptroller and the Justice Department’s privacy watchdog all announced investigations into the potential use of Pegasus on Israelis.

In its latest report, Calcalist said dozens of people were not suspected of criminal conduct and that police had not received the necessary court approval.

Among them are senior officials from the finance, justice and communication ministries, mayors and Ethiopian Israelis who have led protests against allegations of police misconduct.

In another revelation meant to rock Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trial, Calcalist also reported that key witness Ilan Yeshua, former chief executive of the Walla news site, was also a target.

Netanyahu is accused of seeking to trade regulatory favors with media moguls in return for favorable coverage, including on Walla. He denies the charges.

His lawyers on Monday called for the trial to be halted until the latest revelations are verified.

calls for an independent investigation

Police have conducted internal investigations and answered questions before parliamentary oversight committees, since Calcalist reported last month that its investigators had used Pegasus against Israeli citizens — sometimes without warrants.

This report created a national furor over the Pegasus spyware, prompting Naftali Bennett’s government to order export reviews.

On Monday, Bennett promised government action following the new reports.

“We will not leave this unanswered. Things have allegedly happened here that are very serious,” Bennett said in a statement that also defended Pegasus, which can turn a phone into a handheld spy device, as an “important tool in the fight against terrorism.” .

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, a member of her right-wing party, has called for the establishment of an external commission of inquiry.

This was echoed by centrist Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata and liberal Environment Minister Tamar Zandberg, with the latter urging on Twitter: “Commission of inquiry, no excuses or semantics”.

NSO has consistently denied any wrongdoing throughout the multi-pronged Pegasus scandal, pointing out that all of its sales are government-sanctioned.

He also insisted that he does not operate the system once sold to customers and does not have access to any of the data collected.

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