Chairman of notorious spyware firm quits amid major snooping row

The departure comes after recent allegations that Pegasus software was being used to monitor domestic dissidents since 2013

More alleged victims of Israeli spyware Pegasus were identified as the firm’s chairman resigned on Tuesday, only a week after reports that the software was used to spy on domestic protesters.

NSO Chairman Asher Levi resigned effective Tuesday, though he told the Associated Press his departure from the company had been planned for some time and is unrelated to the troubles brewing over its domestic activities.

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A view of the Israeli cyber company NSO Group. © Amir Levy / Getty Images
Police used notorious spyware to snoop on citizens – media inquiry

The firm is currently under investigation by Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mendelblit, following the claims from business outlet Calcalist that police were using the flagship spyware Pegasus to monitor protest leaders and anti-government activists for nearly a decade. 

Police used the globally-condemned software sometimes without securing the required warrants and even monitored some politicians, including mayors, according to the report.

As well as the AG’s probe into the allegations, the parliamentary public security committee also announced plans to convene this week to question police. Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev has insisted the police were not spying illegally, though he acknowledged on Saturday to Channel 12 that they were indeed using some “advanced technology.” 

Levi insisted his reasons for leaving NSO were unrelated to the current investigation, explaining to the Associated Press that he had been appointed by the company’s previous owners and submitted his resignation when new owners took control of the company.

Two more alleged victims of Pegasus spying were named on Tuesday by online rights advocacy group Citizen Lab, which has been digging into NSO’s activities for months to uncover its software’s abuse by authoritarian governments. 

The two latest additions are Michal Kolodziejczak, an agrarian Polish political leader who has thus far been blocked by the courts from creating a political party despite popular appeal, and Tomasz Szwejgiert, who was allegedly hacked a whopping 21 times while co-authoring a book about the head of Poland’s secret services. 

READ MORE: Israeli spyware giant NSO group added to US trade blacklist along with three others

Pegasus allows a target’s phone to be remotely accessed via microphone and camera without their knowledge and has been discovered on the phones of journalists, activists, and political dissidents from the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Mexico, and other countries within the last few years. 

NSO was blacklisted by the US Department of Commerce last November for engaging in practices that “threaten the rules-based international order.” It was also discovered that 11 State Department officials in Uganda were among Pegasus targets.

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