Israeli ISPs May Soon Offer Tracking Tools to Monitor Employees' Online Habits

The Communications Ministry seeks to filter out pornography and other sites deemed harmful.

AP

The Communications Ministry aims to make Internet service providers offer their customers tools for monitoring the browsing of their employees or family members, a move that has stoked opposition among online privacy activists.

According to the proposal, the providers would enable “the sending of reports to the subscriber regarding the surfing hours and the websites being surfed.” These reports would go to “an electronic mailbox determined by the subscriber.”

The proposal is part of the ministry’s initiative to filter out pornography and other sites deemed harmful. Internet providers would promote the service on their websites and search engines. For every search for words such as “incitement,” “racism,” “filtering,” “surfing,” “Internet,” “sex” and “porn,” the filtering-service’s page would be the first result.

The proposal would go into effect via an amendment to the permit allowing Internet-access services. A memo on the initiative was sent last month to Internet service providers and other communications firms. The companies were asked to reply by August 27 — this Wednesday.

Mike Dahan of Sapir Academic College says the only Western country with a similar initiative is Australia under its conservative government.

“It’s another step that could curb freedom of expression, freedom of opinion and freedom of access to information,” he said. “Countries are increasingly using huge databases and cross-referencing such databases.”

Attorney Jonathan Klinger of the Digital Rights Movement said he doubted whether the proposal was feasible, but it was still a cause for concern.

“If it’s all in the name of protecting children, it’s a bit funny,” Klinger said. “Who decided that the holder of an account has the right to know where the children are surfing? Where his partner is surfing?”

He doubted whether parents would be good at policing their children. “Who thinks for a moment that a parent who’s unfamiliar with the Internet will check one link after another?” he said. “I surf several thousand pages every day, and I assume the same is true of teens.”

Details of the proposal were first published this week by Ha’ayin Hashevi’it, an online media journal. The site said the initiative was spawned because few Internet users use the filtering services that Internet firms must provide free of charge. Some providers are reportedly unenthusiastic about the free service and push a broader service for a fee.

The new version requires providers to offer the service for equipment such as phones, computers and modems. The proposal does not make clear whether customers would be able to request the filtering service or whether it would be a default choice, with customers having to request to be disconnected.