JERUSALEM: Israel on Thursday launched an investigation into allegations that police used the controversial Pegasus spyware on the country’s citizens.

In a letter sent to police commander Koby Shabtai, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit asked to receive all wiretapping and computer spying orders from 2020 and 2021 in order to “verify allegations made in the media”.

The Israeli business daily Calcalist reported on Thursday that the police used Pegasus software to spy on an Israeli they considered a potential threat in order to gather evidence that could be used as leverage in future investigations.

According to the newspaper, which did not cite any sources, the police action represents a “danger to democracy”.

The surveillance product can turn a mobile phone into a pocket spying device

Police commissioner Yaakov Shabtai, reacting to the story, said that “the police have not found any evidence to support this information”.

“The Israeli police are fighting crime with all the legal means at their disposal,” Shabtai added in a statement.

Israeli security forces have wide leeway to conduct surveillance within Israel with judicial approval.

On Wednesday, Israel’s justice ministry pledged a full investigation into allegations that Pegasus spyware was used on Israeli citizens, including people who led protests against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Pegasus, a surveillance product made by the Israeli firm NSO that can turn a mobile phone into a pocket spying device, has remained a source of global controversy following revelations last year it was used to spy on journalists and dissidents worldwide.

Once installed in a mobile phone, Pegasus allows access to the user’s messaging and data, as well as remote activation of the device for sound and image capture.

NSO would neither confirm nor deny it sold technologies to Israeli police, stressing that it does “not operate the system once sold to its governmental customers and it is not involved in any way in the system’s operation”.

“NSO sells its products under licence and regulation to intelligence and law enforcement agencies to prevent terror and crime under court orders and the local laws of their countries,” it said in a statement.

Israel’s defence ministry, which must approve all exports of Israeli-made defence industry products, has also opened an investigation into sales of Pegasus overseas.

Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2022

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