Opinion: Whoever pushed police into utilizing cyber aggression to fight crimes, some of which never took place, understood importance of these tools, but they likely forgot that police are only here to protect us, not fight imaginary enemies

Less than a decade ago, Israel’s police entered a tech toy store, filled up the cart, and left – all power surged. Up until that day, the police existed in their own stone age world when it comes to anything tech-related: from small-scale crimes to international affairs.

When the police needed to secretly tap phones, they would use third parties like the Shin Bet, who at the time already had the tools to do so. Since then, the police made a generational leap – they entered the toy store and couldn’t control themselves over sheer excitement.

NSO , מני יצחקי, אלשיך, גדי סיסו, שבתאי
The NSO building and four latest police commissioners (Photo: Elad Gershgoren, Eli Senyor, Reuters. Amit Shaabi, Ido Erez)


Whoever introduced the police to the cyber world certainly knew the extent of power these tools possess, but were clearly not raised within the police force. The way the police collected intelligence seemed ridiculous to those same people; the man-based espionage field using agents or spies, turned into a small and insignificant branch of intelligence work.

Most of the intelligence today is collected through the cyber world. Roni Alsheikh, the former head of Shin Bet who later became the police commissioner, saw utilization of cyber aggression as an obvious tool against Palestinian terrorists or spies. He also drafted new professionals to the police, some of whom came from experienced espionage intelligence bodies, and were used to working against an enemy without rights.

Some of them probably didn’t fully internalize the fact that the police, as opposed to previous organizations these people belonged to, is supposed to protect civilians and their rights rather than take down foreign enemies.

ביג רוני אלשיך nso משטרה
Former Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh (Photo: Amit Shaabi )


Those who launched this revolution and initiated employment of controversial cyber resources came from a different organizational culture, where is someone is suspicious and the tools to enter his home from afar exist… why not? Isn’t this better than physically following him, planting microphones, and dealing with warrants? And if these tools already exist, why stop at conversations, when we can get all the relevant information in much less time using much less resources?

For the police, this was a revolution, and marked the point in which the Pegasus spyware turned into a harmful tool. Now, the question is whether the publications in Ynet’s sister outlet Calcalist present a problem of devious power-surged police officials, or judges’ mistake for requesting these espionage tools, or even a fundamental organizational problem that calls for a deep-rooted radicalization turnover?
The targets of the police must be thoroughly examined. There is no doubt that spying on VIPs, such as politicians, demanded approval from high-ranking police officers. Hence, the commissioner knows exactly who he, or his predecessors, gave approval to.

As of now, Alsheikh claims that he’s looking into it, maybe because he can’t exactly explain how these people became intelligence targets. For the same reason, the governments legal advisor doesn’t want to explain why he gave approval to spy on a Shlomo Filber – a key witness in the corruption trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – if indeed he was a target.

טלפון נייד על רקע לוגו NSO
A person holding a phone in front of NSO Group logo (Photo: AFP)


There is no doubt that this is a case for an investigation commission. The present day civilian already feels that he or she is transparent and exposed to a dark world. Civilians have little defense mechanisms against the technology, they can really only turn off their phone several times a day, making the cyber aggressor have to re-enter the scene and make the person understand he, literally, is being heard and not transparent at all.

Ironically, the technological cyber developments are abiding by the law. The law regarding espionage was written when the facsimile was the most complex resource, and is major need of an update. Like the Shin Bet, the police will also need to present itself in front of Knesset committees with a list of targets they approved.

Cyber-professionals need to start thinking like police, and be subject to supervision. At least at first, while the commissioner himself should personally supervise espionage targets. Whoever introduced the police into the cyber world didn’t prepare them for what was to come, and the aftermath lays before us.

As reported by Ynetnews