Israel allows police to use Pegasus spyware to probe killings of Palestinian citizens

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Israeli officials have granted approval for the police to use Pegasus spyware as they conduct an investigation into the shooting of Palestinian citizens earlier this week, according to reports in local media.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara said on Thursday that investigators on the case can use Pegasus to listen in on conversations but are not allowed to extract data from targeted devices.

Following a scandal in early 2022, when it was revealed that law enforcement had used spyware to snoop on Israeli citizens, the police have been banned from using the technology, although some exceptions have been allowed.

Six Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed in two separate shootings in the last week. In one incident, five members of a single family were killed inside a house in a northern Israeli town, while in the second a victim was shot by a masked gunman on his way to work in the nearby coastal city of Haifa. Israeli law enforcement is now investigating a potential connection between the two shootings.

The police have claimed that the ban on spyware has had a negative effect on their ability to combat crime and is one of the factors contributing to the significant increase in murders within Arab communities, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

A senior police official told the outlet the use of Pegasus spyware is crucial to “immediately save lives,” as Wednesday’s murder might lead to more violence.

So far this year, 188 Palestinian citizens of Israel have been killed, compared to 80 during the same period last year.

Palestinian citizens make up about 20 percent of the country’s population and have long suffered from poverty, discrimination, and neglect by the government. They have also raised concerns about inadequate law enforcement in their communities, allowing criminals and drug dealers to operate freely.

Pegasus, which was developed by the Israeli company NSO Group, has been used across the globe, often by governments spying on their citizens. The tool can monitor calls and messages, access emails and social media, track GPS locations, control the device’s camera and microphone, extract data, and even take full control of the infected device.

Its use has raised ethical and privacy concerns due to its potential for both legitimate law enforcement purposes and for malicious use.

In August, Israel created a committee to examine the alleged use of spyware by law enforcement to spy on political activists, mayors, senior officials and criminals without a court order.

The Israeli government has also formed a committee to investigate the global misuse of Pegasus, after documents leaked revealing that governments may have used this malware to spy on heads of state, opposition figures, activists, and journalists.

Last November, the European Parliament released a report stating that European Union member countries had been using spyware like Pegasus against their citizens “for political purposes and to cover up corruption and criminal activity.”

In early September, a well-known Russian journalist and Kremlin critic reported that her phone had been infected with Pegasus. After her revelation, other Russian journalists have also voiced concern that they too suffered similar spyware attacks.

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Daryna Antoniuk
is a freelance reporter for Recorded Future News based in Ukraine. She writes about cybersecurity startups, cyberattacks in Eastern Europe and the state of the cyberwar between Ukraine and Russia. She previously was a tech reporter for Forbes Ukraine. Her work has also been published at Sifted, The Kyiv Independent and The Kyiv Post.

 

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