Israel PM Bennett supports continued use of Pegasus spyware despite scandal
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett supports the continued use of the controversial NSO Pegasus spyware, despite further allegations of it being used to illegally target activists, according to Haaretz.
At a press conference on Monday, Bennet said that the hacking software can be used in the "fight against organised crime".
"You want a tool like this when you’re fighting crime families and serious offences. I don't want to discard the tool itself, rather to regulate its use,” Bennet told reporters.
Bennett claimed the spyware could be used in the fight against protection rackets in Palestinian communities.
"In Arab society, it's been neglected, and we need to take care of it. It's far worse than I thought. We need all the tools we have to handle this, but we must use them carefully and under close supervision," Bennett said.
Bennett’s support for the controversial hacking software follows the release of a report by Israeli business newspaper Calcalist, that claimed it was used, without a court order, to spy on prominent individuals.
Among those allegedly targeted were former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's son, Avner, and his media advisers, as well as the director generals of the finance, justice, and transportation ministries – Shai Babad, Keren Terner and Emi Palmor.
"The things that were reported, if true, are very serious," said Bennett.
"This tool [Pegasus], and similar tools, are very important in the war against terror as well as against serious crime, but they are not intended for widespread ‘phishing’ of Israeli citizens or public figures in the State of Israel, therefore we need to learn exactly what happened."
Further reports alleged that the spyware had been used to hack mayors, journalists, Ethiopian and disabled protest organisers and prominent business leaders.
It was revealed that Israeli police had been using the spyware to target the phones of Israelis, who were not suspected of committing any crimes, without first securing a court orders.
The hacking was undertaken by a special operations team inside the police’s cybersecurity unit.
An initial internal investigation into the allegations was conducted by the police and found "no evidence" that phones were hacked without a court order.
A fresh investigation into the allegations was ordered by Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and found that the spyware was used without court orders.
Pegasus spyware is used to gain remote access to a targeted phone, giving the hacker the ability to view vast amounts of private information, including messages and photos.
It can also be used to secretly and remotely switch on the camera or microphone of the targeted phone.
The hacking software has been sold across the world to numerous governments and intelligence agencies.
Since its existence was first revealed, there were widespread allegations that the spyware was used to hack opposition targets and dissidents worldwide.