Smile, they listen to you!

 Smile, you're being bugged!

It turns out that the Israeli police illegally planted Pegasus spyware on citizens' phones and eavesdropped on their conversations, that's the news! It is even strange that this can surprise someone. After the international phone spying scandal on the President of France, US senators and the Moroccan king, it would be strange if such an effective invention was not appreciated at home.

By law, Shin Bet can use the means to obtain information when it comes to terrorism. The police are allowed to resort to such measures only with the permission of the court. However, the employees of the cyber department of the police “Signet” installed wiretapping on the phones of various people – from family members and witnesses in the Netanyahu case to entrepreneurs, city mayors and journalists. There was and could not be any permission for this, since these people were neither criminals nor suspects.

Now we are seeing a storm in the Knesset and outrage of politicians. Homeland Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev is feverishly assembling a government commission of inquiry with the broadest powers. The same Bar Lev quite recently, in January of this year, assured that “the Israeli police do not practice wiretapping or hacking devices without a court order.” Now there is a new excuse: violations occurred under the previous leadership and the previous government, and now everything will be thoroughly investigated and will not happen again. But it's hard to believe, and here's why.

Our entire law enforcement system has long felt like a state within a state, a separate independent branch of power. This state has its own laws, this government has its own rules. Police investigators know that the life and career of literally every member of society is in their hands, and the higher the status of a person, the greater the risk that he will become the object of an investigation. Hook a big fish, send a politician, a minister, the head of a corporation, a protest leader to jail – bail for promotion. Every year, new criminal cases are opened that break people's lives. Even if a high-profile case turns out to be zilch, no one is responsible for it and the police still manage to get their minute of fame in the media. And if there are grounds for an investigation and it can be brought to the point of bringing charges, then the investigators become the very winners who are not judged. Those against whom the evidence is obtained are judged, even if it was done illegally.

For some, it may be a revelation that an Israeli court accepts evidence obtained through illegal methods. It is only necessary that these methods do not infringe on the right of the accused to defense. That is why the trial of Netanyahu will not be postponed, despite the fact that the witnesses in his case were wiretapped. That is why police officials were not afraid to massively introduce spyware into citizens' phones. Yes, there was a certain risk in this, but it was outweighed by the opportunity to get valuable information and use it in this or that case. Or maybe the police did not think at all about the legality of certain means. It is no coincidence that the audition has gained such momentum and lasted so long. Journalists have been writing about police use of the Pegasus for months now, but the reaction is only now.

Many questions arise here, and the first is: why was such a blatant violation detected so late? Why was it only a journalistic investigation that shed light on what was happening, while the law enforcement agencies themselves kept silent about it until the last moment? It is hard to believe that none of the current leaders knew about the wiretapping, and all the sins remain on the conscience of the former command, as they are trying to convince us. If there is no mutual responsibility and protection of one's own (which is unlikely), then it is not clear how the commission will help, who will bear real responsibility and punishment for violating the rights of citizens. Or maybe, on the contrary, a high-profile investigation is started right now, so that heads that are objectionable to someone fly? Now nothing seems impossible.

But the main thing is still different. There is no way that the law enforcement system right now is not using some other illegal methods of surveillance, surveillance, eavesdropping, peeping and other invasion of privacy against us that we do not know about and are harder to detect than the ill-fated Pegasus. There is no guarantee that this will not happen in the future when the scandal settles and better spyware is invented. Yes, police leaders will be more careful for a while, but as long as their internal state lives by its own laws, we will not stop feeling “under the hood”. It seems that the people of Israel, both ordinary citizens and celebrities, just need to keep in mind that they can be tapped and monitored at any moment, legally or otherwise, and nothing can be done about it.

//: Ira Kogan

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