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Criminal records in misdemeanor cases that were closed without an indictment will be automatically erased after seven years, according to a law passed by the Knesset in final reading yesterday.

The law also makes it a criminal offense for employers to ask prospective employees for their criminal records. Violators face a sentence of up to two years in prison and a NIS 200,000 fine.

The law, sponsored by MKs Gilad Erdan (Likud) and Effi Eitam (National Union-National Religious Party), applies only to misdemeanor cases that were closed due to "lack of evidence" or "lack of public interest." According to police data, some 280,000 people have criminal records of this type. Many are for offenses such as smoking marijuana or shoplifting.

While the law stipulates that such records must generally be erased automatically after seven years, it enables the head of the police's Investigations Division to make exceptions in certain cases - for instance, in cases involving known criminals. It also authorizes this official to erase records before the seven years are up in certain cases.

However, the police must draft criteria for either refusing to erase a record or erasing it early, and the Knesset Constitution Committee must approve these criteria.

Public Security Minister Avi Dichter opposed the law, saying it would impede the police's work. But Constitution Committee Chair Menachem Ben-Sasson (Kadima) championed it, saying it could prevent a juvenile crime from destroying a person's entire life.