Israel Police Seeks to Buy $11 Million System to Monitor Internet Users

Verint system designed to collect information on social media networks, private forums and the dark web ■ Cyber security sources say lack of bidding process unjustified

Social media app icons on a smartphone in 2017.
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File

The police are seeking to purchase a 40-million-shekel ($11.3 million) advanced system to monitor internet usage without requesting bids, Haaretz has learned. According to sources in the cyber security field, the request to exempt this purchase from a tender is unusual and unjustified, because of the high cost of the purchase and the fact that there are many companies that provide similar equipment.

In December, police told cyber security companies that it plans to buy a Verint system to provide real-time intelligence analysis of web users’ activities. According to sources in the field, the system collects information on social network activity, as well as from closed forums and the dark web, and can be used to identify and analyze online criminal activity. The sources said they think the police conducted a test in cooperation with Verint before deciding to purchase the system.

The Finance Ministry committee that approves exemptions from bidding has yet to approve the purchase of the system. Haaretz has learned that several firms have contacted the police and the treasury in an effort to block the purchase, on grounds that purchasing the system without a tender is invalid.

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Verint Systems, based in Herzliya, develops security and intelligence systems for security and commercial entities. A report by the human rights organization Privacy International from 2014 claimed that the company had helped internal security agencies in Central Asia spy on their citizens, by allowing them to monitor internet and telephone traffic in those countries. In April it was reported that hackers seized control of the company’s systems and demanded millions of dollars in ransom to release them. Verint said at the time: “We identified the attack at its inception and did what was necessary to foil it.”

The system can monitor the activity of certain users or groups of users on social networks, and monitor the activities of password-protected and dark web sites by various means, including the introduction of fake users. The information obtained is transmitted to the police in real time, so that preparations to commit crimes or hold protests can be followed. Similar tools are used by enforcement and intelligence organizations in Israel and around the world. Neither the police nor Verint responded to Haaretz’s questions regarding possible invasion of users’ privacy.

In the most recent comptroller’s report, former State Comptroller Joseph Shapira was sharply critical of the police for awarding a project worth 50 million shekels to Fifth Dimension, a company that was chaired by Kahol Lavan head Benny Gantz at the time. Shapira found that the job was awarded to Fifth Dimension without inviting bids from other suppliers, and that Fifth Dimension had provided false information to police representatives about the company’s capabilities. 

The police said in response: “We do not elaborate on methods used in operational and intelligence operations, and this does not confirm or deny any detail of the inquiry. To dispel all doubt, the Israel Police has not yet made any such contract or agreement. The Israel Police is acting and will continue to act in accordance with the law and the mandatory tender regulations, subject to the supervision and control of the relevant authorities, in-depth evaluations and market surveys, the legal advisers of the Israel Police and the Finance Ministry, and if necessary subject to an exemption committee permit.”

Verint Systems said: “Verint is a global leader in producing intelligence from the internet, including the deep web and the dark web, where much illegal activity is carried out. Verint has proven capabilities in the field and its systems are used by dozens of leading clients around the world, including law enforcement, and security and intelligence organizations.”