Israeli Government Reportedly Forming Task Force to Tackle Pegasus Spyware Scandal Fallout
Last Sunday, several media outlets and rights groups claimed that about 50,000 phone numbers, including those of a dozen world leaders, may have been targeted by an Israeli cyber company's spyware, known as Pegasus.
The Israeli government is reportedly setting up a task force to grapple with the fallout from the Pegasus malware-related scandal, media outlets in the country have quoted unnamed sources as saying.
The sources referred to a team that will allegedly include representatives from the Ministries of Defence and Justice, as well as military intelligence and the Mossad to investigate whether “policy changes” are needed regarding sensitive cyber exports.
One of the insiders argued that the team is headed by Israel's National Security Council, which reports to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. The government has yet to comment on whether the task force is being set up.
This followed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urging for greater oversight of surveillance technology after a journalistic investigation revealed that government agencies use the Pegasus malware developed by the Israeli cyber company NSO Group to spy on rights activists, journalists, and several world leaders.
"These reports […] confirm the urgent need to better regulate the sale, transfer and use of surveillance technology and ensure strict oversight and authorization. Without human rights-compliant regulatory frameworks there are simply too many risks that these tools will be abused to intimidate critics and silence dissent”, Bachelet stressed in a statement.
The spying scandal broke out last Sunday, when a consortium of prominent media outlets in cooperation with several NGOs revealed that the phone numbers of over 50,000 prominent individuals worldwide may have been targeted for surveillance by state-linked clients of the NSO Group.
The consortium’s probe argued that phone numbers belonging to three presidents, 10 prime ministers, and one king may have been hacked with the help of the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, which reportedly rode roughshod over the smartphones of French President Emmanuel Macron and his South African сounterpart Cyril Ramaphosa.
The NSO Group rejects the spying accusations as "uncorroborated theories", also casting doubt on the trustworthiness of the investigation's sources. The company insists that the Pegasus programme was only sold to responsible governments to prevent terrorist attacks and other crimes.