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The Prison Service is covertly following paroled sex offenders and tracking their movements with hidden cameras, in a blatant deviation from its authority and possibly in violation of the law, the Public Defender's Office yesterday told the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

The Prison Service responded that it was acting legally.

The law protecting the public from sex offenders, which came into effect in October 2006, stipulates that a risk evaluation must be undertaken for every paroled sex offender. If the offender is deemed to be of high or medium risk, the prosecution can ask for a monitoring order.

The Prison Service's sex offenders parole authority has numerous ways of supervising and restricting released sex offenders.

The Constitution, Law and Justice Committee intends to follow up on the law's implementation to monitor sex offenders and discuss the public defender's accusations. Hagit Lernau, deputy chief public defender, wrote in a position paper submitted to the committee that "since the law was enacted, we have encounter an increasing number of complaints about the measures taken by the Prison Service's monitoring unit.

"I gravely fear that the law leads to the complete breach of privacy and a blatant deviation from the parole officers' authorities," she wrote.

Lernau cites parole officer Eli Tal's comment, during a Tel Aviv District Court hearing, that "some of the supervision is carried out by covert tracking [of the former offender]. We have means like cameras. We breathe down his neck."

Lernau sent a letter to sex offender parole unit commander Ronit Zer last May, saying that "the powers of the parole authority do not include any covert tracking. The basic assumption is that all means employed are undertaken with the sex offender's knowledge."

Lernau said the parole unit's undercover activity may well be against the law, which stipulates that if used, supervision and tracking can should be employed "with the maximum protection of the sex offender's privacy."

Lernau asked Zer for a list of the unit's parole measures, especially covert tracking and use of hidden cameras, and the number of times each measure has been used.

The Prison Service rejected her request. Zer told Haaretz that the public defender's accusations were examined by the unit thoroughly in discussions in which Justice Ministry officials participated. The hearings concluded that the unit was acting within the law and was preserving the "supervised persons'" privacy.

"Revealing the information about the monitoring measures [requested by the Public Defender's Office] could disrupt the unit's work and enforcement ability," Zer wrote in answer to Lernau. "The parole unit's relative advantage derives from the acts being covert and unexpected by the sex offenders," she wrote.

Committee chairman MK Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima) commented that "the charge that sex offenders are being persecuted is troubling." However, he said that covert tracking may well be the least harmful way to go, as it makes it possible for offenders to rehabilitate themselves and return to normal life.