The number of wiretaps conducted by the Israel Police has more than doubled in the last 10 years, according to data which police gave the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. The data shows the number peaked last year, as police sought permission to wiretap 3,483 phones in 2017. The courts approved all but two of these requests.
This represents an increase of 135 percent compared to 2007, when police submitted just 1,484 requests and the courts rejected 11 of them.
According to the police data, the vast majority of wiretap requests targeted people suspected of serious crimes such as murder, drug smuggling and arms smuggling. But in some cases, courts approved wiretaps on people suspected of less serious offenses, such as committing a crime motivated by racism, disrupting a policeman in aggravated circumstances and possessing brass knuckles or a knife for illegal purposes.
Under the Wiretapping Law, wiretaps can only be requested by a senior police officer, and only in felony cases, in which the maximum sentence is at least three years. The requests must be approved by a district court president or deputy president, and the warrant remains in force for three months.
Commander Elazar Kahane told the Constitution Committee that “Over the years, the scope of the wiretaps has been fairly stable.” He said that on average, investigators end up using about 10 percent of the recorded calls, while 90 percent prove irrelevant to the case.
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Anat Segal, of the police’s investigations and intelligence department, told the committee that wiretaps are used for minor crimes only in exceptional circumstances, when some unique aspect of a case makes them necessary. “It’s really just a handful,” she said. Segal said that wiretaps are used mainly in investigations into five types of crime – murders, drug crimes, illegal weaponry, money laundering and theft, including car theft.
But police declined to answer Haaretz’s question as to what circumstances might justify such a decision.
By law, police can wiretap a phone even without a court order in urgent cases, but the wiretap can remain in place only for 48 hours without court approval and must be reported immediately to the attorney general. In practice, police say this provision is never used.
One prominent case in which wiretaps were used over the last year was the investigation of Likud MK David Bitan on suspicion of taking bribes, money laundering and other corruption offenses in his former role as deputy mayor of Rishon Letzion. Because he is a Knesset member, these wiretaps required special permission from the attorney general.
Police told Haaretz that in their effort to fight crime, they use a wide variety of tools, including wiretaps. All these tools are used legally, the statement added.