An aerial view shows the logo of Israeli firm NSO Group, which makes Pegasus spyware, at one of its branches in the Arava Desert in southern Israel on July 22, 2021. (Reuters/Amir Cohen)

Israel to investigate alleged police use of Pegasus spyware against local journalists, others

New York, February 7, 2022 – In response to news reports that Israel will investigate its police force’s alleged use of NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to hack the phones of Israeli journalists, among others, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement calling on authorities to ensure the harmful technology is not used against journalists:

“Israel’s government should fully and transparently investigate whether police used NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware against Israeli journalists, and should take concrete steps to curtail the technology’s use against members of the media in Israel and around the globe,” said Justin Shilad, CPJ’s senior Middle East and North Africa researcher. “By allowing Pegasus spyware to proliferate worldwide, the Israeli government has unleashed a monster that now appears to be going after Israeli journalists.”

According to a report Monday in the Israeli daily newspaper The Calcalist, Israeli police used the spyware against Aviram Elad, former editor-in-chief of the online Israeli news outlet Walla, and other unnamed Walla journalists. The report said that police deployed spyware without warrants during their investigation in one of the alleged corruption cases into former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The report also alleged the use of the spyware against Israeli chief executives, activists, political advisers, and Netanyahu’s son Avner Netanyahu.

In an email to CPJ, an Israeli police spokesperson said that the Israeli police commissioner, Yaakov Shabtai, asked the minister of internal security to establish an “external and independent” review committee to look into the allegations, instate rules about technology, and “restore public trust” in the police.

Reached by CPJ via messaging app, Elad said he couldn’t immediately comment as he was still looking into the allegations in the report.

Last year, the Pegasus Project, an investigation conducted by an international journalist consortium, revealed at least 180 journalists were named as potential Pegasus targets. CPJ has documented the use of Pegasus spyware against journalists across the globe. NSO Group has repeatedly told CPJ in the past that it licenses the spyware to fight crime and terrorism.