In themselves, discoveries and inventions are neither good nor evil. It all depends on whose hands they are. The same substance can be medicine and poison – depending on the dosage and for what it is used. The same applies to a nuclear reactor and computer programs.
Israel has always prided itself on being ahead of the curve in digital sciences, and today our performance in Google thematic searches is off the charts. Alas, we owe such a high rating primarily to the international scandal surrounding the NSO company and the Pegasus spyware developed by it. This program turned out to be extremely popular in many third world countries – primarily for illegal surveillance of politicians, journalists and human rights activists.
However, Pegasus has an ambiguous reputation at home. The police have been using the system since 2013 to hack and tap citizens' phones, often without a court order. Thus, there are known facts of wiretapping of the leaders of the Black Flags protest movement, who advocated the resignation of Netanyahu, advisers of Netanyahu himself, senior officials suspected of corruption, potential witnesses in corruption cases – to be able to put pressure on them, etc.
At the beginning of the corona epidemic Naftali Bennett, then Secretary of Defense, aggressively but unsuccessfully lobbied for NSO technology to trace the contacts of infected Israelis. Bibi and his colleagues have used Pegasus as a cyber diplomacy factor, offering it as a gift to their new partners on the international stage. So the spyware got to the special services of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and others. The Israeli surveillance system was involved in the kidnapping of the Dubai princess and her mother, facilitated the arrests of Mexican and Azerbaijani journalists, and was installed on the phones of leaders of recent protests in Kazakhstan. NSO was mentioned in the media after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018.
More – more. It turned out that with the help of Pegasus, employees of the US State Department, French President Macron, the King of Morocco… Shocking revelations grew like a snowball. Apple, WhatsApp, Meta sued the NSO Group, and the US blacklisted Pegasus as an organization that threatens US national interests.
One may ask: what does Israel have to do with it? After all, it was not he who violated human rights and conducted illegal surveillance! This is the argument made by NSO leaders, and it is also the subtext behind the restrained silence of our politicians. The legal adviser to the government is extremely reluctant to acknowledge the need to investigate the illegal surveillance of citizens. He certainly understands what a tangle of snakes he has to unravel – after all, here the interests of big business and politicians of all stripes, including irreconcilable enemies, have united in rare unanimity.
Blue eye manufacturers claim they are not responsible for the use of their product and have no control over their customers. It is absurd to blame Israeli developers for murders, arrests, illegal wiretapping and other violations of human rights by authoritarian regimes. Pegasus was created to prevent dangerous crimes and terrorist attacks, to save people who are missing. It was sold legally, and it is not our fault if someone uses it for evil.
All this – pure hypocrisy. Discoveries and inventions really are not “bad”; or “good,” but only as long as business and politics don't get involved. Arms dealers are liable if they sell them to bandits, terrorists and dictators. Today, high technology is just as, if not more dangerous weapons than tanks, bombs, and rocket launchers.
The NSO and the Israeli government do not live on the moon; they know perfectly well which regimes and organizations are given spyware and why they need it. But they don't care, because there is a direct benefit – material or political. Both the company and the politicians earn their every capital under the guise of reasoning about the purity of science.
That is why the sensational history of Pegasus is very poorly covered in Israel. We are convinced that it is artificially inflated, because states, business, intelligence agencies – everyone is spying on each other, and it's not a secret to anyone. So why on earth is the hype raised precisely around Israel? Just because our tracking technologies are better than others and more in demand? We need to be proud of this, and not justify ourselves to the rest of the world. And in general, all these attacks are just plain anti-Semitism.
In fact, the situation is very alarming and dangerous for the country and society. From a cutting-edge technological powerhouse, we are turning into a digital pirate and the world's leading cyber threat, getting into the infamous blacklists on a par with drug cartels and terrorist organizations. All this negates efforts to build the image of Israel as a civilized democratic state and damages the entire high-tech industry. In addition, this scandal may have far-reaching political consequences: when assessing the next military conflict, we will again, as once, be put on the same level as bandit formations like Hamas and Hezbollah.
But much worse what is happening inside the country. The political and law enforcement leadership, caught by the hand, does not at all repent of the fact that it illegally followed the population. Think listening! The authorities do not even hide that the rights of citizens for it are nothing more than an empty phrase, a convention that can be neglected for the sake of higher ones, but in fact – selfish and career goals. On this occasion, the people of Israel should seriously think about who we trust with our lives, well-being and security. If today it's “only” listening to phones, what will happen tomorrow?