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Probe launched into global scandal involving Israel spyware

July 21, 2023 at 2:43 pm

Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin in Jerusalem on March 5, 2023 [GIL COHEN-MAGEN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]

The global scandal around the targeting of hundreds of journalists and activists around the world using Israeli spyware technology, Pegasus, will become the subject of an inquiry, Justice Minister Yariv Levin announced yesterday. The 54-year-old has announced the formation of a commission to look into the scandal. He has appointed former district judge, Moshe Drori, to lead the probe.

A request for the commission to be granted investigative powers has been made to the government. Two other members of the commission have also been named: Inbal Rubinstein, a former director of the Public Defender’s Office and Shalom Ben Hanan, a former division chief at the Shin Bet.

The commission is expected to deliver its conclusions to the Justice Minister within six months of first convening.

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“The commission will be empowered to look into the conduct of police personnel, the prosecution and their oversight agencies in regard to acquisition, surveillance and collection activities against citizens and officials through cybernetic means,” Levin is reported saying in the Haaretz.

“In order to perform comprehensive regulation and to provide a standard framework for the use of advanced technology, in order to strengthen public trust damaged by the Pegasus affair, and in light of the need to protect privacy on the one hand, and to give enforcement agencies effective tools to combat crime and corruption, on the other.”

Israeli spyware was at the centre of a 2021 global scandal. Governments across the world were found to be using the Israeli NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to spy on human rights activists, journalists, political dissidents and even heads of state. A list of over 50,000 phone numbers targeted for surveillance by Pegasus’ customers was leaked to Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories, sparking a major investigation named the “Pegasus Project”.

Although Pegasus was originally developed and marketed as a tool to target Palestinians labelled by Israel as terrorists, the leaked list demonstrated that the spyware was being widely misused. Though ignored, the dangerous practice of selling the latest technology of war and espionage, tested on Palestinians, to autocrats around is a well-known Israeli practice.

In his book “War Against the People”, Israeli author Jeff Halper exposed this practice in detail. He argued that, with the rise of authoritarianism, governments around the world are waging “a war against the people” and seeking “securitisation” against critics and opposition.

The logical consequence of the expansion of security and militarisation, argues Halper, has meant that the people of the world have been “Palestinianised” and governments have become “Israelised”.

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