IDF's New Cell Phones Will Allow It to Monitor Soldiers' Calls

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Israel's defense establishment will be able to monitor soldiers' phone conversations, according to a new agreement between the army and cellular service provider Cellcom.

The Defense Ministry and the IDF will also receive records of soldiers' calls free of charge from the company.

IDF soldiers at a graduation ceremony after completing an officers’ course.Credit: Ilan Assayag

Cellcom won a recent tender to provide cellular phone services to the defense establishment. Its services will replace those of Mirs, the army's previous provider. 

According to the army's contract with Cellcom, which has been attained by Haaretz, the company will install a system in two separate locations allowing the IDF to "manage, view and produce a list of calls by subscribers of the defense establishment/IDF."

In addition, authorized Defense Ministry and IDF representatives, including information security officers and Military Police investigators, will be able to activate the system and view data about the identity of callers and call times.

According to the contract, the IDF has purchased a system which allows it to tap into cellular providers' systems, access call records and listen in on calls. In the contract, Cellcom promises to connect the company's systems to the army's system.

Following the army's switch to Cellcom, most of the cellular phones carried by career soldiers will be replaced with smartphones. However, according to the agreement, Cellcom will also provide the IDF with phones without cameras, voice recorders or WIFI connection capabilities.

According to IDF sources, new regulations on information security were issued before the decision was made to replace the cellular devices, due to the growing use of smartphones. According to the new regulations, entrance into classified meetings and command centers with smart phones is now forbidden, and in some cases telephones must be left outside rooms.

The deal will net Cellcom tens of thousands of new subscribers. At the army's request, five percent of them will be classified as VIPs and given numbers that are easy to remember. The network will provide coverage within Israel's borders, in Jewish settlements and army bases in the West Bank and in the Jordan Valley.

Army subscribers will receive the lowest rates in Israel, at 5.1 agurot per minute, 0.3 agurot per text message and monthly user fees of NIS 14.

The contract is estimated to be worth tens of millions of shekels every year. Defense Ministry sources said that the new arrangement was examined in light of cuts to the defense budget. The new system will apparently be put into place in May.

"You can't hold back progress," said Eliezer Hasson of the Defense Ministry's Procurement Administration. "It's not acceptable for IDF officers and soldiers not to have smartphones when every kid has [one]. The prices that we secured are extremely low, even we were surprised."

IDF Spokesman's Unit said in response, "The IDF is an army that progresses along with the technology. Alongside the technological advancement and development, an analysis of security risks was conducted, along with tailored solutions, both administrative and technological, for the new security threats resulting from use of devices of this kind."

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