Israeli police targeted a social activist with spyware created by the controversial NSO group, despite the fact that he was not suspected of any crime, and recorded potentially embarrassing information about his sex life to use as ” leverage” in any future investigations. Business news site Calcalist reported on Thursday.
Calcalist announced on Tuesday that police have for years used NSO’s Pegasus against Israeli civilians, including people who are not suspected of any crime, exploiting a legal loophole and keeping surveillance in strict secrecy, unchecked by a court or a judge.
Pegasus is considered one of the most powerful cyber surveillance tools available on the market, giving operators the ability to effectively take full control of a target’s phone, download all device data, or activate its camera or microphone without the knowledge of the user. NSO has been criticized for selling Pegasus to authoritarian countries that have used the technology to spy on critics of the regime. The technology has also been used to gain unrestricted access to the devices of top global officials.
Thursday’s follow-up report, which did not cite its sources, claimed that contrary to police claims, in several cases information was extracted using Pegasus during intelligence gathering – before the start of a secret investigation, which is the first step where the police can ask a court for a warrant to tap a target’s phone.
On one occasion, a protest activist – the outlet said it was not mentioning further details about him to protect his privacy – was targeted by the police’s underground Sigint unit because of the assessment that he could potentially commit “aggravated breaches of public order” and pose a “danger to democracy.
Police allegedly tracked his phone using spyware and found he was using Grindr, a dating app primarily used by gay people. Officers read his chat exchanges and even notified other police units of his appointment times and locations to follow up.
This information was included in an intelligence file on the activist, with officers writing: ‘Probably dating men despite being married – leverage questioning, prepare confidentiality, tell the unit to prepare a listening warrant.”
The implication was that information found through the illicit use of Pegasus would be retroactively whitewashed as the product of legitimate court-ordered wiretaps, with the source of the initial information concealed as confidential.
Calcalist said the procedure was largely based on the operations of the IDF Signal Intelligence Unit 8200, the largest unit in the military, which tracks Israel’s enemies with sophisticated technological tools.
The report said many of the 8,200 former students were brought into the police’s Sigint unit by former police chief Roni Alsheich, who previously served as deputy chief of the Shin Bet’s domestic security agency. These officers, according to the report, “were used to targeting hostile elements and did not necessarily understand the limitations of police investigators in a democratic country.”
Police said in response to Thursday’s report that “the chain of events described is unfamiliar to police, and it is evident that there is an interest in narrowing down the details, which does not allow for an investigation. If more details are provided, we can probe the matter thoroughly.
Police also repeated earlier comments that all operations were legal and based on court warrants and “meticulous working procedures”.
The Department of Justice also said it was unaware of the case in question, adding that there were no rules allowing police tracking products to be recorded when they are not directly relevant to the investigation and the alleged crimes.
Separately, Likud MK David Bitan on Thursday morning commented on a report that police used NSO spyware against him in a corruption case related to his stay in Rishon Lezion municipality, in which he is accused of corruption. , fraud, breach of trust, money laundering and tax offences.
“I expect the Attorney General to freeze my case, check the case and grant me a repeat [pre-indictment] audience,” Bitan said.