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Wiretap investigation finds Israeli police overstepped their authority


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JERUSALEM — An Israeli government investigation into the use of powerful bugging technology by police found they only used it after obtaining a court warrant, but the flood of information exceeded the bounds of their authority.

The investigation was launched after Calcalist, a local business daily, published an explosive report that police used Pegasus, a controversial technology developed by Israeli group NSO, to spy on public figures. The Justice Department dismissed the allegations in February, saying there was no evidence that police illegally hacked into the cellphones of people named in the report.

The investigative team, led by Deputy Attorney General Amit Marari, released additional findings on Monday. He said there was “no indication” that police used sophisticated technology to break into personal phones without a court order. But he said when the technology was used, the police received an excess of information not covered by the warrants.

He said that while there are no signs that the excess information was used, its acquisition was a “breach of authority”. The statement did not identify the technology.

The Calcalist report had caused a public outcry, with then Prime Minister Naftali Bennett calling the allegations “very serious”. The Justice Department launched its investigation shortly after the report was released in January.

Police welcomed Monday’s findings, saying they proved “no deliberate activity was carried out in violation of the law”.

“Serious allegations against police conduct have been proven to be false, but unfortunately they have caused serious damage to public confidence in the police,” a police statement said.

Pegasus is a powerful tool that allows its operator to infiltrate a target’s phone and scan its contents, including messages, photos, contacts, and location history, without the target knowing or take no action.

NSO has been linked to spying on human rights activists, journalists and politicians in several countries. In November, the United States blacklisted the company, saying its tools had been used to “carry out 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 customers and says it does not know who is being targeted. Although it says it has safeguards in place to prevent abuse, it says it ultimately does not control how its customers use the software.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel said the latest findings show “major failures” that raise concerns about the suspects’ privacy and rights. He called on authorities to ban police from using such technology until detailed legislation is implemented to govern its use.

Associated Press writer Joseph Krauss in Ottawa, Ontario, contributed to this report.

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