Attorney General Gali Bahrav-Miara, who took office this week, said on Tuesday that gaining the public’s trust in law enforcement in Israel is her top priority. “We are able to deal with mistakes honestly and effectively and draw lessons,” she said, adding that “the independence of the job does not mean avoiding criticism.”
The AG was, of course, referring to the calamity of revelations in recent Calcalist reports that NSO’s invasive Pegasus software has been used unlawfully since 2014 by Israel Police to infect and monitor communication devices belonging to citizens and foreign nationals. The surveillance was reportedly ordered by high-ranking police officers, and carried out without proper warrants or judicial supervision, often without evidence or even suspicion of criminal activity or even intent. Pegasus was used often to obtain information that was unrelated to ongoing investigations, to be stored for future use against individuals. This included spying on the director-general of the justice ministry who said she “annoyed” the police. Police also used Pegasus to obtain incriminating information from suspects’ devices, and then lied to the courts about the source of incriminating information.
Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai announced that he was cutting short his visit to the United Arab Emirates following the police espionage scandal. The Israel Police announcement said that Shabtai had instructed the head of the Investigations and Intelligence Division to examine all the cases reported in the press on Monday and the investigation has not, so far, revealed any deviation from the provisions of the law.
We can wait.
Attorney Nir Alkabetz, the former commander of the cyber unit at the police investigation unit Lahav 433, struck a refreshingly honest note Tuesday morning on Reshet Bet radio, stating unequivocally: “No wiretapping court order allows the taking of existing information from a cell phone. The court order has one purpose – to obtain information about future events. The only way to get information from a device is through a search warrant.”
It’s a crucial distinction: a search warrant allows the police to dig as far and wide as they wish – but only under the scrutiny of a judge. It’s very different from wiretapping which does not include accessing the suspect’s recorded history.
State Comptroller Metanyahu Engelman said on Tuesday regarding the reported police espionage: “We will examine the conduct of the State Attorney’s Office and the Justice Ministry as well. If the reports are correct, this was trampling on the values of democracy.”
Former CEOs of Government Ministries Shai Babed (Finance), Keren Turner (Finance), and Emi Palmor (Justice) on Tuesday wrote Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, Minister of Internal Security Omer Barlev, and Attorney General Gali Bahrav-Miara, demanding the establishment of a state commission of inquiry, the destruction of the material extracted from the infected mobile phones, and a court order prohibiting possession of illegally obtained data.
At least nine individuals who are involved in Case 4000 against former PM Benjamin Netanyahu were infected by Pegasus, and it remains to be seen if the judges who are hearing the case will decide to admit contaminated testimony from prosecution witnesses. On Monday the judges accepted a motion from Netanyahu’s defense and sent home a prosecution witness whose testimony had apparently been obtained using Pegasus.