JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli government investigation into the use of powerful eavesdropping technology by the police found that they only used it after securing a judicial warrant but that the flood of information exceeded the limits of their authority.
The probe was launched after Calcalist, a local business daily, published an explosive report that the police had used Pegasus, a controversial technology developed by Israel's NSO Group, to spy on public figures. The Justice Ministry rejected those claims in February, saying there was no evidence police had illegally hacked the mobile phones of those mentioned in the report.
The investigative team, led by Deputy Attorney General Amit Marari, released additional findings on Monday. It said there was “no indication” that police had used sophisticated technology to penetrate personal phones without a judicial order. But it said that when the technology was used, police received excess information not covered by the warrants.
It said that while there was no sign that the excess information was used, its acquisition was a “violation of authority.” The statement did not identify the technology.
The Calcalist report had prompted a public uproar, with then-prime minister Naftali Bennett calling the allegations “very serious.” The Justice Ministry launched its investigation shortly after the report came out in January.
The police welcomed Monday's findings, saying they proved that “no deliberate activity was carried out in violation of the law.”
“Serious allegations against the conduct of the police turned out to be wrong, but unfortunately they caused great damage to the public’s trust in the police,” a police statement said.
Pegasus is a powerful tool that allows its operator to infiltrate a target’s phone and sweep up its contents, including messages, photos, contacts and location history — without the target being aware or taking any action.
NSO has been linked to snooping on human rights activists, journalists and politicians in several countries. In November, the U.S. blacklisted the company, saying its tools had been used to “conduct transnational repression.”
NSO says it sells the product only to government entities to fight crime and terrorism, with all sales regulated by the Israeli government. The company does not identify its clients and says it has no knowledge of who is targeted. Although it says it has safeguards in place to prevent abuse, it says it ultimately does not control how its clients use the software.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel said the latest findings show “major failures” that raise concerns about privacy and the rights of suspects. It called on authorities to bar police from employing such technology until detailed legislation is implemented to govern its use.
Associated Press writer Joseph Krauss in Ottawa, Ontario, contributed to this report.