Israel's police, accused by rights groups of using notorious Pegasus hacking spyware, find evidence pointing to improper use of sophisticated spyware by its force to snoop on citizens' phones.
Israeli police appeared to acknowledge they had used espionage technology without a warrant after allegations emerged last month that they had used Israeli firm NSO Group's controversial Pegasus spyware.
Israel's justice minister had pledged a full investigation after business daily Calcalist said the police had used Pegasus against Israelis at the forefront of protests against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The police had firmly denied the allegations, and commissioner Yaakov Shabtai had said that "the police have not found any evidence to support this information".
But on Tuesday, the police said an in-depth investigation had revealed that "new elements changed certain aspects of the matter".
In a statement that did not mention Pegasus or the NSO Group, the police said those elements had led "the public prosecutor to take immediate measures to prevent potential violations" regarding cyber-surveillance, adding that the police "comply" with the measures.
"All police officers must cooperate with the work of the commission of inquiry, providing all the required information and authorising access to police technical systems," the statement said.
The statement indicated that surveillance products developed by other Israeli firms might be under scrutiny. NSO had no comment.
Spying on civilians
Pegasus, a surveillance product that can switch on a phone's camera or microphone and harvest its data, has remained a source of global controversy following revelations last year it was used to spy on journalists and dissidents worldwide.
NSO last month would neither confirm nor deny it sold technologies to Israeli police, stressing it does "not operate the system once sold to its governmental customers and it is not involved in any way in the system's operation".
"NSO sells its products under licence and regulation to intelligence and law enforcement agencies to prevent terror and crime under court orders and the local laws of their countries," it had said in a statement sent to AFP news agency.
Israeli security forces have wide leeway to conduct surveillance within Israel with judicial approval.
Mounting scrutiny over Pegasus
NSO has faced mounting scrutiny over Pegasus, which has been linked to snooping on human rights activists, journalists and politicians across the globe.
In November, the US Commerce Department blacklisted NSO, along with an Israeli competitor, Candiru, barring the company from using certain US technologies, saying its tools had been used to "conduct transnational repression."
Confirmed or presumed targets have included Mexican and Saudi journalists, the ex-wife of Dubai’s ruler, Palestinian human rights activists, Uganda-based US diplomats, Indian activists and politicians, and Finnish diplomats.