The Israeli police used malware by NSO to spy on political activists, according to an investigative report published Tuesday.
The investigation conducted by Ynet's sister outlet Calcalist, revealed the order to use the spyware on civilians, primarily opponents of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was given at the highest levels of the police without a court order.
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said in response that he was troubled by the report and would probe the matter to ensure its legality.
The Israel Police denied the report. "We would like to put things into perspective: There is no basis for these allegations. All activity of the Israel Police is according to the law, on the basis of court orders and strict work procedures," said the police in a statement.
The last years of Netanyahu's term in office were marred by demonstrations, calling for his removal after his indictment on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, as well as protests of his management of the coronavirus pandemic.
His government attempted to silence the public outcry by appealing to the courts to limit the number of demonstrators allowed in any location. The move was rejected citing the right to protest as a foundation of democracy.
The police were also accused of using excessive force, against the demonstrators.
The Defense Ministry announced in June that it would be increasing its supervision of the technology company following international condemnation of its business practices.
The United States added NSO to its 'entity list' for supplying foreign governments with tools to target journalists, opponents and dissidents.
Canadian based internet security watchdog group Citizen Lab said last year that the NSO technology was able to break into Apple (AAPL.O) iPhones with a never-before-seen technique .
Apple filed a law suit against the Israeli firm for its hacking of Apple U.S. users
According to the investigative report, the police also spied after a mayor suspected of corruption using the controversial tool and used it to fish for possible crimes on the phones of unsuspecting civilians.
Pegasus was purchased by the police in 2013 and became operational under the command of former Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh, who was appointed by Netanyahu after his retirement from the Shin Bet.
The spyware is comprised of eight software programs that allows malware to be planted on a mobile phone in order to control it from a distance and hack its content. It is operated by the police signet unit.
Only a small group of senior police officials were authorized to order the surveillance that has yielded considerable successes in investigation of major crimes including murder and corruption.
However, the unsanctioned use of the tool enabled spying on civilians and close associates of political activists without any supervision of the courts.
Information obtained by the NSO technology was used by other investigative arms of the government who were not always informed about its source.
The intelligence branch of Israel's Securities Authority, Tax Authority and others were aided by the hacked information in the early stages of investigations.