Israel Police cleared of phone hacking charges in NSO group spyware scandal

The Attorney General report also determined, however, that the police exceeded their authority under cyber warrants that were granted by the courts in certain cases.

By Gil Tanenbaum, TPS

A special investigation conducted by Israel’s Ministry of Justice into allegations that Israel Police illegally used spyware to conduct surveillance on Israeli citizens – including politicians – has cleared the police of the most serious charges against them.

The police were accused of using the Pegasus spyware made by Israel’s own cyber security company NSO Group to gain access to people’s private information without a court order granting authority to do so.

The police allegedly hacked the phones of Israeli citizens using the Pegasus spyware.

The revelations about the unauthorized surveillance came about after a worldwide scandal erupted over how NSO Group sold its spyware to non-democratic governments. These governments were said to use the programs to spy on journalists and political opponents alike.

The Marari report, a 100-page report named for the team of the Ministry of Justice and technological experts led by the Deputy Legal Adviser to the Government, attorney Amit Marari, found that most people who were named in a report by Israel’s Calcalist as having been victims of hacking by police were not spied on.

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However, while exonerating the police in the hacking scandal the report did determine that the police in fact exceeded their authority under cyber warrants that were granted by the courts in certain cases.

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, who is responsible for the police department, was pleased with the findings of the report.

“The findings do not surprise me, since throughout the period I supported and came to the defense of the police, despite the criticism directed at me,” said Barlev. “I support the police officers of the Israel Police who lead with dedication and commitment a determined and important fight against crime.”

He also stated that the “falsified publications caused great damage to both the Israel Police and Israeli democracy.”

The police issued a statement declaring that the report states that they acted in all cases subject to court orders. No spying on citizens was carried out, no “extraction” of cellular devices was carried out, and the allegations against the police regarding the published list of individuals – were refuted.

Israel Police promised to take action in response to the charges of misconduct made in the report.

“The gaps that arise in the report will be fully addressed by a team that the commissioner ordered to be established headed by the deputy head of the police, in order to implement the report’s recommendations, and to make the necessary adjustments to return the use of technological capabilities to fight crime as the report’s conclusions permit,” said the Israel Police in a statement.

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The Israel Police, however, stressed that in their opinion the report is proof that they, “acted with integrity, in accordance with procedures and strict supervision, when before our eyes the fight against crime and criminals and maintaining the safety of the public.”