Justice Ministry Mulls Barring Civil Servants From Taping Each Other

The regulation would bar Israeli civil servants from making video or audio recording of their colleagues, except to expose sexual harassment and/or ethical violations

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu along with his son Yair, who was recorded in a controversial tape that caused a public outcry recently.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu along with his son Yair, who was recorded in a controversial tape that caused a public outcry recently. Credit: Thomas Coex/ AFP
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

The Justice Ministry is considering a proposal by the Civil Service Commission to bar civil servants from recording their colleagues. While the ministry said the discussions began months ago, they take on new gravity in the wake of last weeks sensation over a secretly recorded audiotape of Yair Netanyahu, the prime ministers older son, discussing his activities at Tel Aviv strip clubs that he frequented under Shin Bet guard and while being driven by a state-provided chauffeur.

Under a proposed amendment to the civil service regulations that was submitted to the ministry in August 2016, it would be a disciplinary offense for a civil servant to make video or audio recordings of a colleague, except to expose harassment, sexual harassment or ethics violations. Moreover, a civil servant who believes an ethics violation is being committed would first have to try to get his own agency to rectify the situation, and only if that failed could he tape a colleague in order to expose the problem.

Currently, there is no legal prohibition on civil servants recording their superiors, subordinates or colleagues. But civil service disciplinary courts have repeatedly ruled that such behavior is inappropriate, because it undermines trust within the civil service.

The proposed amendment is not an initiative by politicians, but by the former head of the Civil Service Commissions disciplinary department, Asaf Rosenberg. He proposed the change in light of the disciplinary courts rulings.

The commission held several discussions on the issue and considered various proposals, such as one that would only bar recordings of a direct superior or subordinate. But Rosenberg ultimately decided on a broader ban which would apply to all civil servants.

Though the commission sent the proposed amendment to the Justice Ministry back in August 2016, it hasnt yet been approved by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan.

A key test case involving such a recording was that of Ofra Shmueli, an employee of the Israel Tax Authority who was at odds with her superiors. She was put on disciplinary trial and one of the charges against her was recording her bosses. Though the recordings were legal under the Wiretap Law, the Civil Service Commission argued that they were inappropriate. The court agreed and convicted Shmueli.

She then appealed to the Jerusalem District Court, which acquitted her for the recording, though it upheld her conviction on other charges. The Supreme Court subsequently upheld the district courts decision. Nevertheless, Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein wrote in his ruling that recording another person without his knowledge is morally dubious, since the person being recorded isnt weighing his words as he would if he knew they could be used in a legal proceeding against him.

The Justice Ministry said its legislation department held its first meeting on the proposed amendment several months ago. It then requested comment from various relevant agencies. Since then, there has been a personnel change at the Civil Service Commissions disciplinary department, and the proposal will be examined together with the new head of the disciplinary department, its statement added.

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