Police Used Facebook to Monitor Israeli Social Protest Leaders, Court Evidence Reveals

Evidence brought forward by Tel Aviv police shows tracking of social media activity, including screen shots of Daphni Leef's Facebook page, apparently as part of a hunt for evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Evidence submitted by prosecutors in support of indictments brought against social protest leader Daphni Leef and others indicates that Israel Police have been carefully following the Facebook accounts of the social protest movement and its leaders, apparently as part of a hunt for evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

In addition to video footage and documents related to this summer's protests and the arrest of protest leaders, the Tel Aviv District police prosecutors also submitted evidence including screen shots of Leef's Facebook page that appear to contain no direct evidence of wrongdoing.

The police appear to have presented the screen shots in an effort to document the events leading up to the June 22 protest on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard, as well as the general atmosphere there. Leef's first hearing took place January 23.

"Without relating to the content of the question, the prosecution in the State of Israel has the authority to compose the indictment based on its professional considerations and the evidentiary basis of the case," the police said in a statement. "The cases mentioned in the [Haaretz report] are in the midst of the judicial process and any comment on them should be made through the courts."

Several indictments contained a screen shot from June 22 of the "situation room" of the social justice movement on the day of the protest.

"Daphni, Liat Biron and Moshe Cohen were arrested," the movement announced on its Facebook page. "We are blocking the road. The police are preparing for a confrontation. Come. Spread [the word]. Civil disobedience now."

The screen shot was taken just 56 seconds after the post went up, indicating that the police were tracking the page in real time. Other posts were also copied very shortly after they appeared.

Some of the pages could be described as reflecting a a desire to make the protests stronger and fury at the police behavior in response to Leef's arrest. "We will burn tires if necessary," wrote one activist. In response, another person wrote they must act to free Leef and make the disorder in the streets worse. Other commenters cursed the police.

Some of the comments, however, reflect the wish of some activists to avoid violence and confrontation with the police, while some seem to have no connection whatsoever to the indictments.

The indictment against Leef, filed by the police's prosecution department, accuses her of participating in a riot, interfering with a policeman in the line of duty and using force or threats to resist arrest. According to the police, the demonstration was illegal, and demonstrators "disturbed the peace in a way that could intimidate the public." Leef "led the angry demonstrators and encouraged their acts against [municipal] inspectors and policemen," the indictment added.

She denies all charges, and has said the indictment has no basis in reality. She said she was the one attacked by the police.

The police have taken exceptional steps in the past to collect information on the social protests and their leaders.

At the beginning of June, the police called in for questioning a number of protest leaders, even before protests began. Most of the questioning was called off in the wake of enormous public criticism of the police's actions.

The police prosecutors have indicted some 40 protesters involved in the summer's social protests so far, on charges including assaulting a policeman, interfering with the police in carrying out their duties, resisting arrest, participating in an illegal gathering and inappropriate behavior in a public place.

The police have already withdrawn five of the cases in the wake of criticism from the judge, and softened other indictments.

Alon Ron