Despite Law, Israel Police Not Providing Knesset With Phone Tapping Info

Requirement of periodic reporting under 2011 'Big Brother Law' not being implemented.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
Two women checking their cell phones, Tel Aviv 2013.
Two women checking their cell phones, Tel Aviv 2013.Credit: Ofer Waknin
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The police has not reported to the Knesset for more than three years on information it has collected about suspects through their phones, although the law requires it to do so.

According to emergency legislation passed in 2011, known as the “Big Brother Law,” the police was to have made periodic reports to the Knesset on how it has made use of the legislation, which allows investigators to identify the owners of cellphone lines, duration of phone calls, whether the phone accessed the Internet, when calls were made and from what location. The last report the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee received on the subject was on June 5, 2011; the emergency legislation expired that year and has not been renewed.

Coalition chairman MK Yariv Levin (Likud) has been working in recent months on a bill to turn the emergency legislation into a permanent law. But following a demand from the Justice Ministry, he agreed to withhold his bill until the government could present a bill of its own. The Knesset approved a preliminary reading of Levin’s bill in March, yet since then no progress has been made and Levin says he is tired of waiting for the Justice Ministry bill.

“I’ve lost patience,” Levin told Haaretz this week, adding that he would bring his bill to a vote as soon as the Knesset’s winter session begins. Justice Ministry officials said the government is to present its legislation soon.

During the session in which the Knesset passed a preliminary reading of Levin’s bill, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni promised that the government would present an extensive bill on the subject. Levin said the law was very important because it “touches upon matters that are at the foundation of the protection of privacy.” He called for the emergency legislation to be renewed “to assure that improper or exaggerated use will not be made of it, and that the proper balance will be kept between the need for investigating authorities to do their work and the obligation to protect and maintain the privacy of citizens and people using communications services.”

Livni said she also supported extending the period of the emergency legislation, and that the law she was proposing would require the authorities to present a periodic report on the information gathered. She said the government supported Levin’s bill “subject to his pledge to connect his bill to that of the Justice Ministry, which is in its last stages of preparation. There’s no problem with that, is there?” Livni asked from the rostrum a moment before the vote in March.

Under Clause 14 of the Criminal Code (Enforcement Powers – Communications Data), the investigative authorities are required by law to report to the Knesset every year on the law’s implementation. The law outlines the ways the police is allowed to obtain information in the possession of permit holders of communications services.

The information the police is required to give the Knesset includes the number of applications made for a court order granting the police the right to obtain communications information, and the number of permits it has received to obtain communications information on an emergency basis without a court order.

The police does provide the Knesset with periodic reports on the extent of wiretaps it carries out, because that obligation is enshrined in a different law, the ‘Wiretap Law.’

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