In the shadow of the storm surrounding the National Security Agency's collection of intelligence on Americans' phone calls, it turns out that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's bureau has refused to provide figures of the number of security wiretaps conducted by Israel's Shin Bet security service over the past five years, following a request by an Israeli NGO.
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Unlike wiretaps in criminal cases, in suspected security offenses wiretaps do not require a court order. Approval of the prime minister is sufficient.
In May 2012, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel requested information from the Prime Minister's Bureau, which is responsible for approving security wiretaps, for data. The association asked for the number of permits issued by the bureau over the past five years, broken down by year. It also asked to know the number of wiretaps approved in relation to the number of Israeli citizens and residents over the past five years, also broken down by year.
In addition, the organization asked for the procedures governing the prime minister's approval of security wiretaps.
In her request for information, attorney Lila Margalit from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said that data on the extent of the Israeli government's use of wiretaps in criminal cases subject to judicial review is published all the time. This data, she said, shows that a very high rate of such requests is approved in court. In contrast, figures on wiretaps in cases of suspected security offenses have never been made public.
Last week, more than one year after the organization's request was submitted, and after the the Prime Minister's Bureau said a number of times that it was dealing with the request, Ayelet Moshe, the person in charge of the implementation of the Freedom of Information Law in the bureau, replied. "Our position is that the requested information could expose classified information, tasks, abilities, covert methods of operation, competency, classified methods and sources of information, the publication of which is prohibited by law," she announced.
Netanyahu's bureau said in response that there are mechanisms in place to control and supervise the granting of permits through obligations to report to the attorney general and the joint committee of the Knesset Foreign and Defense Committee and the Legislative Committee.
Also on Sunday, Netayahu confirmed that Israel is cooperating with the United States on cyber defense, and that attacks by Iran are on the rise.
Netnayahu's comments were made amid controversy over revelations that the NSA has been collecting the phone records of hundreds of millions of Americans every day, creating a database through which it can learn whether terror suspects have been in contact with people in the United States. It also was disclosed this week that the NSA has been gathering all Internet usage - audio, video, photographs, emails and searches - from nine major U.S. Internet providers, including Microsoft and Google, in hopes of detecting suspicious behavior that begins overseas.
According to The Guardian, a confidential "global heat map" showing a snapshot of a tool used to document and examine where intelligence information comes from indicates that most of the NSA intelligence collected was on Iran.