The embattled Israeli spytech firm NSO Group filed Sunday a defamation lawsuit against a newspaper that reported its Pegasus software had been used by police against dozens of prominent Israelis.
The reports by the business daily Calcalist triggered public outrage in Israel, with the government promising answers and President Isaac Herzog saying the alleged police misconduct put the country’s democratic foundations at risk.
But the police and justice ministry have said their internal inquiries since the bombshell Calcalist reports were published earlier this month prove the paper was wrong.
On Sunday, NSO said it was suing the paper for corrections and ILS one million (roughly Rs. 2 crore) after its letter demanding a formal correction went unanswered.
“It appears that this is not a journalistic investigation but a one-sided, biased and false publication,” said a statement from NSO, based near Tel Aviv.
Calcalist’s editorial board said they would “respond in court” to the accusations, according to a spokesperson.
Pegasus enables users to remotely activate a phone’s microphone and camera and access its data.
Calcalist has claimed that Israeli police, without securing proper authorisation, implanted Pegasus on the phones of government ministry heads, local mayors, activists, as well as a key witness in an ongoing trial of former premier Benjamin Netanyahu for alleged corruption.
A government probe into the paper’s allegations said police successfully infected the phone of just one individual, subject to a court order.
In its lawsuit, filed at the Rishon Letzion magistrates’ court, NSO accused Calcalist of also “distorting” the government report to make it appear as though it confirmed the reporting.
Calcalist published “blatant lies” on four separate occasions about NSO and its products, according to the lawsuit, with the spytech company denying the paper’s claim that records of Pegasus use can be deleted without trace.
Calling the reports a “paranoid conspiracy theory”, NSO stressed in the lawsuit their ability to tailor their tool to the needs of each customer, noting that in the case of Israel’s police, they supplied a “watered-down” product.
The US blacklisted NSO Group in November, following a global investigation that revealed Pegasus has been used by repressive regimes to target journalists, dissidents, diplomats, and others.