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Israeli Minister supports State's police over alleged use of Pegasus to spy on citizens

This studio photographic illustration shows a smartphone with the website of Israel's NSO Group which features 'Pegasus' spyware, on display in Paris on July 21, 2021. [JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images]
This studio photographic illustration shows a smartphone with the website of Israel's NSO Group which features 'Pegasus' spyware, on display on 21 July 2021 [JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images]

Israeli Minister of Public Security, Omer Barlev, defended the State's police following allegations it used NSO Group's Pegasus hacking technology against citizens and protesters in Israel.

Israeli business news outlet, the Calcalist, reported on Tuesday morning that Israeli police have, for years, been making widespread use of the spyware against Israeli civilians.

However, in an interview with the Guardian yesterday, Omar Barlev said, "It's not true, what was mentioned in the newspaper. But the technology isn't the issue. The issue is whether the police got legal permission from a judge to use it."

"The right to protest is a basic right, it's not a crime. It's not that the police wanted to listen to the phones of people who were involved in riots and they went to the judge, and the judge didn't give permission. The police didn't even ask once to do that."

The Calcalist also said that the police spied on people not suspected of crimes, exploited a legal loophole and kept the surveillance under tight secrecy without oversight by a court or a judge.

READ: Phone of jailed Indian activist hacked by Israel spyware

Barlev claimed, however, that the Ministry's next steps regarding the issue would be determined by the preliminary assessment of Israeli Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit.

"I am waiting to hear what Mandelblit will say. After that, if I am not 98 per cent convinced, because there's no such thing as 100 per cent convinced, I will think about how to deal with it," he said.

Moreover, Barlev's claims of denial continue despite Israel Police Chief, Kobi Shabtai, admitting using the notorious spyware against Israeli citizens, but promised that everything was done with the appropriate warrants and oversight.

The NSO Group has been made infamous over the past few years due to its hacking scandals, particularly in July last year when the University of Toronto's internet watchdog, Citizen Lab, exposed its client governments' misuse of the Pegasus spyware through the hacking of around 50,000 phones and devices belonging to journalists, human rights activists and political critics worldwide.

Israel's State Comptroller, Matanyahu Englman, and Privacy Authority said, on Tuesday, that the use of such espionage devices "raises questions of balance between their usefulness and the violation of the right to privacy and other freedoms."

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