Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, 27 August 2023. EFE-EPA/MENAHEM KAHANA / POOL

Israel forms panel to investigate police use of spyware

Jerusalem, Aug 28 (EFE).- The Israeli government approved the formation of a commission on Sunday to investigate the alleged misuse of spyware, such as Pegasus, by the police for extracting information from infected phones.

A man reads the website of NSO Group, an Israeli technology firm primarily known for its proprietary spyware Pegasus, in Jerusalem, Israel, 03 May 2022. EFE-EPA/FILE/ATEF SAFADI

The cabinet’s decision comes despite the attorney general’s warning that the government-authorized probe could potentially interfere with ongoing cases and impede the criminal investigation involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces corruption accusations.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin proposed the creation of a committee with investigative powers to assess the police’s role.

The panel’s purpose is to develop a regulatory framework for the use of advanced technology tools “to strengthen public trust that was damaged by the Pegasus affair,” Levin’s office said.

Levin, a key figure in the right-wing prime minister’s administration and an architect of the government’s contentious judicial reform, chaired the cabinet vote on Sunday’s panel formation in the absence of Netanyahu.

The committee will review the attorney general’s office’s conduct in matters related to surveillance and the gathering of evidence with the help of cyber tools.

“The spyware affair is one of the most serious ones exposed in recent years. Exposing the truth of the matter, and preventing similar incidents of fatal infringement of Israeli citizens’ right to privacy, is vital and extremely important,” Levin said in a statement.

However, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara opposed the formation of the panel.

She had written to Levin, advising him that his ministry did not have the authority to form a panel to investigate ongoing lawsuits.

The attorney general expressed concerns that the committee could interfere with the corruption trial against Netanyahu.

The Pegasus surveillance software is a technology developed by NSO Group, an Israeli cybersecurity firm founded in 2010.

Last year, the spyware was at the center of a global controversy amid allegations that it was used to spy on journalists, activists, dissidents, politicians, and officials in several countries.

The spyware can hack any iOS or Android device and steal data from the infected device, including text messages, emails, key logs, audio, and information from installed applications, like Facebook or Instagram.

It can record conversations and video as well as snap pictures from the device’s camera.

The virus has been around since at least the summer of 2016. EFE