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NSO faces trouble at home as Israel launches investigation into domestic use of Pegasus spyware

The ex-Prime Minister’s family is among many others believed to have been targetted by spyware.

The Israeli government on February 7 said that it will set up a commission of inquiry to investigate allegations that the Israeli police illegally used NSO-made spyware against its citizens, the Times of Israel reported.

“The reports about Pegasus, if they are true, are very serious. This tool (Pegasus) and similar tools, are important tools in the fight against terrorism and severe crime, but they were not intended to be used in phishing campaigns targeting the Israeli public or officials – which is why we need to understand exactly what happened,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.

Thus far, much of the scrutiny of NSO and Pegasus have come from abroad following the revelations made by Project Peagaus in July last year. In India, the Supreme Court has constituted an expert committee to investigate the usage of Pegasus by the government against its own citizens. Hungary and France are also investigating the Pegasus allegations. In the US, NSO has been blacklisted by the government and faces lawsuits from Apple and WhatsApp. Notwithstanding all these challenges, an investigation on its home turf deals a significant blow to NSO, especially in light of a recent report by the New York Times that revealed the amount of support NSO had from the Israeli government all these years.

“Those who turned a blind eye to this activity abroad, must now deal with it here.” – Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz

Who was allegedly targeted by Israeli police?

Israeli news agency Calcalist reported that Pegasus was used by the Israeli police between 2015-18 to target the following people:

  1. CEOs of the ministries of transport, finance, and justice at the time, Keren Turner, Shai Babad and Emi Palmor respectively
  2. Leaders of protests organised by disability rights groups and Israelis of Ethiopian descent
  3. Activists in the protests against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while he was still in office
  4. Mayors Miriam Feirberg of Netanya, Yoram Shimon of Mevaseret Zion, Yaakov Peretz of Kiryat Ata, and Moti Sasson of Holon.
  5. Witnesses and others part of Case 4000, in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also standing trial. People connected to the case that were targeted include Iris Elovich, indicted on bribery charges in Case 4000, former Ministry of Communications CEOs Shlomo Filber and Avi Berger, Bezeq CEOs Stella Hendler and Dudu Mizrahi.
  6. Walla news website CEO Ilan Yeshua, former Walla editor-in-chief Aviram Elad and other journalists at Walla
  7. Family of former Prime Minister Netanyahu and his inner circle including his son Avner and two of the former prime minister’s advisers
  8. Businessman Rami Levy, a supermarket magnate
  9. Chairman of the workers union at Israel Aerospace Industries, Yair Katz, son of Member of Knesset, Haim Katz.

“The order to conduct the surveillance on Israeli citizens that aren’t criminals or suspects with NSO’s spyware was given by high-ranking police officers without a court warrant or the supervision of a judge. Those who received the order and executed it were members of the police’s special operations cyber unit in SIGINT, whose entire activity is confidential.” – Calcalist

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