Following a global outrage over the use of Israeli-made spy tech Pegasus for snooping on top politicians, journalists and policymakers by strong governments around the world, Israel has announced to set up a senior inter-ministerial team to ‘look into’ proliferating allegations that spyware sold by an Israeli cyber firm has been abused on a global scale.
According to the Israeli government, the team which will look into the allegations is headed by Israel’s National Security Council, which answers to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and has broader areas of expertise than the Defence Ministry, which oversees exports of NSO Group’s Pegasus software.
“This event is beyond the Defence Ministry purview,” Israel source said, referring to potential diplomatic blowback after prominent media reports this week of suspected abuses of Pegasus in France, Mexico, India, Morocco and Iraq.
However, the Israeli government is not planning to place any new curbs on Pegasus exports. Stopping short of describing the team’s task as a formal investigation, the source said: “The objective is to find out what happened, to look into this issue and learn lessons.”
Earlier a global investigation published on Sunday by 17 media organisations, led by the Paris-based non-profit journalism group Forbidden Stories, said Pegasus had been used in attempted and successful hacks of smartphones belonging to journalists, government officials and human rights activists.
NSO has rejected the reporting by the media partners, saying it was “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories”. Pegasus is intended for use only by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism and crime, NSO said.
Such purposes are also what guides Israel’s export policy, Defence Minister Benny Gantz said in a speech on Tuesday. But, in a reference to the allegations around Pegasus, he added: “We are currently studying the information published on the matter.”