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Peace and Conflict

No indication of unlawful spying by the Israel Police

Source: BICOM

What happened
: The Israel Police was cleared of illegal use of spyware without a court order following an initial independent investigation. 

  • The team, led by Deputy Attorney General Amit Marari and aided by former Shin Bet and Mossad officials, submitted its findings to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday night. 
  • It said: “According to information that was provided to the team, court orders for accessing communication between computers existed for three of the people whose names appeared on the published list, regarding two of whom (state’s witness Shlomo Filber and Iris Elovitch), according to the team’s findings, an attempt was made to infect and only in one of the cases (Filber) in which a tapping order was issued, did it succeed.” 
  • Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar said the findings showed there is no need for a state commission of inquiry into the Police’s conduct. However, in a subsequent interview with Ynet, Sa’ar noted “it is an interim report, and we need to continue to examine ourselves, and correct if necessary”. 
  • Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev said the findings were “a reverberating acquittal for the Israel Police.” One Police official added: “From the first moment we said that we were confident in our statements that no one had wiretapped without a warrant signed by a judge, and every action was done lawfully. The committee did the right thing by providing a full and real picture of the situation in the face of the tsunami of fake news.” 
  • Calcalist, the publication that made the allegations into police hacking, said the report’s findings needed to be “seriously addressed” and “mandate a review of the findings and allegations that were reported by Calcalist, and we will do that”. 

Context: Following Calcalist’s report about the police’s illegal use of spyware, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett ordered an independent investigation to ascertain whether the accusations were correct. 

  • Calcalist claimed that up to 26 high-profile figures — including former ministry directors, prominent business figures and family members and associates of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu — were spied on by police using the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware without any judicial oversight. 
  • During its review, the Marari team received assistance from technology and information experts, as well as information that was obtained from NSO Group. 
  • When delivering its findings, the team said it “will continue to work in reviewing the police’s use and handling of wiretapping … including by means of other systems with different features that allow for tapping into communication between computers that the Israel Police either has or had in its possession; the existence of indicators of overstepping authority; supervision and oversight in real time and after the fact over all of the stages of police work in this sphere, and other aspects”. 
  • Last week, the Likud held a rally in Habima Square to demand a state inquiry into police hacking. Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu spoke via video link and told the crowd that the police could not be trusted to probe their own alleged abuse of spyware.  
  • Earlier this week, the Judicial Appointments Committee selected four new judges to sit on the Supreme Court, including the first Muslim and first Mizrachi woman. 
  • Judges Khaled Kabub, Gila Kanfi-Steinitz, and Ruth Ronnen, as well as private sector lawyer Yechiel Kasher, were chosen. It is the first time that a set of judicial appointments to the 15-member court was evenly split between men and women. 

Looking ahead: Netanyahu’s trial is still on hold while the court awaits the prosecution’s response to the allegations.  

  • Netanyahu’s lawyers filed a petition to the court last week to order prosecutors to turn over information obtained from the phone of key state’s witness Shlomo Filber. 
  • With the new findings by the Marari team, the trial is likely to resume soon, however. 
  • State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman is also conducting an independent investigation. His findings are expected to be released soon.