Knesset Committee Reopens 'Big Brother' Legislation for Mitigating Amendments

The Knesset Constitution Committee yesterday reopened discussion of a bill to establish a police database of telecommunications data, in order to enable Knesset members to propose a long list of amendments to reduce the bill's infringement on privacy.

The plenum will vote on these amendments during the bill's second reading.

The bill, which has been nicknamed the "big brother law," would give the police the most extensive telecommunications database in the Western world.

It would contain phone numbers (including unlisted ones), addresses, phone registration numbers, locations of cell phone transponders and much more, making it easier for police to analyze wiretaps or track people by their cell phones.

The police would need a court order to access the database, except in emergencies - such as when someone's life is in danger, or when a serious crime is about to be committed.

Late lawmakers missed bill

The committee approved the bill two weeks ago at the start of its meeting at 9:15 A.M., but many MKs had not yet arrived, and they protested the vote. A revote was therefore held on Monday. The bill passed again, and Committee Chair Menahem Ben-Sasson agreed to allow MKs to submit amendments for the plenum debate.

One of the most important amendments, proposed by MKs Gideon Sa'ar (Likud), David Rotem (National Union) and Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al), would allow the database to be used only for felony investigations.

The current bill would allow it to be used in misdemeanor cases as well. Alternatively, Sa'ar proposes limiting use of the database to a defined list of crimes, that would be drafted by the justice and public security ministers and approved by the Constitution Committee.

Another amendment, proposed by Sa'ar and Shelly Yachimovich (Labor), would greatly limit the police's access to telecommunications data on professionals who enjoy some confidentiality, such as lawyers and psychologists.

Sa'ar believes that at least some of the amendments will pass, as many MKs would like to see the law's scope reduced.

Ben-Sasson said he supports the proposed amendments, but regrets the fact that many lawmakers did not attend the committee debates on the legislation and try to influence the wording at the time. He also said they should have proposed their plenum amendments on time, rather than forcing him to reopen debate after the committee had already voted on the bill.