Fighting Mass Surveillance

2 February 2022

Israel’s human rights organizations, including many NIF grantees, have written to the Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, and the Israel Police demanding that they immediately stop the use of NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware in investigations. Last week Israeli financial newspaper Calcalist revealed that the Israel Police routinely used the cyberattack tool without a court order against numerous people — including the protestors from the anti-corruption “Black Flags” political movement that led protests against former Prime Minister Netanyahu outside of his residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street and around the country.

NSO was blacklisted by the US Department of Commerce last November for allegedly using its flagship Pegasus spyware for “transnational repression” and acting against US national interests. NSO was already in hot water following the investigation last summer by Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories, which was published in The Washington Post, The Guardian, and other newspapers. The report claimed that Pegasus was used by governments to breach the mobile phones of human rights activists, journalists, and political opponents, as well as foreign governments. NSO also faces a major lawsuit from Apple in the US for hacking its phones. Pegasus is a unique spyware tool in that it can be installed in the target’s smartphone without a need for the user to press on any links.

The latest NSO Group revelations have shocked Israelis and the human rights organizations. The letter demanding the immediate halt of the use of this technology included The Movement for Freedom of Information, Israeli Privacy, the Israel Internet Association, The Israel Democracy Institute, Haifa University Technology and Cyber Law Clinic, and the Zulat Institute for Equality and Human Rights.

An Association of Civil Rights (ACRI) Attorney Anne Suciu said that the Israel Police’s use of Pegasus is an absolute scandal.

“There are very detailed regulations enshrined in law about when it is permitted to listen in on conversations and infiltrate phones. It has been revealed that the police have gone far beyond what the law allows. Even if there were court orders every time the software was used, there is no legal arrangement that permits this, because in addition to tapping conversations, [the software] takes complete control of the phone – these options were not what the lawmakers intended. Even if we accept the police claims that everything was done legally, this software is a Trojan horse that infiltrates the phone, and that is against the law .”

Israel’s State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman has announced an investigation into the use of Pegasus by the Israel Police.

Photo credit: Dave Schumaker via Flickr