Knesset Passes Law Allowing Courts to Censor Internet

The new law requires local ISPs to block access to gambling and pedophilia sites, websites that advertise prostitution or drugs, and sites that support acts of terror

Illustration: A stream of binary coding is seen displayed on a laptop computer screen.
Chris Ratcliffe, Bloomberg

The Knesset passed a law on the second and third reading on Monday that will force internet service providers to block access to websites with content that promotes terrorism or criminal activity. The legislation, initiated by the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Police, passed with the support of 63 lawmakers, with 10 voting against.

The new law requires local ISPs to block access to gambling and pedophilia sites, websites that advertise prostitution or drugs, and sites that support acts of terror. It will allow the courts, in certain situations, to order complete removal of the offending site from Web if it is based in Israel, and to delete the results from search engines that lead to these sites.

In the past few weeks, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation has come up with a number of measures meant to keep "innocent" websites from being harmed by the new law. For example, a directive to block access can only be given by a specially trained district court judge, who must take a number of factors under consideration when making that decision. Moreover, representatives of the public will be allowed to appear in court to defend the interests of the general population of internet users who might be affected by limitations on access.

“We are closing a long-standing gap in which existing law did not address the way that crime is shifting to the Web,” Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan said on Monday. “The new legislation will give the police the necessary tools to fight criminals and inciters who have shifted their activity online.”

While lawmaker Revital Swid (Zionist Union) said her party will support the law, she noted the risks it entails.

“This bill is a first step in the legislation of what goes on in social media," said the lawmaker. "We are concerned about an expansion beyond legally defined offenses. The legislative work is complicated, but meanwhile awareness and education have to be increased. Social media shaming starts at school. The Education Ministry has not prepared a national plan to address this.”

At a hearing a few weeks ago, the legal adviser of the Shin Bet told members of the legislative committee, “When we identify a group of people who can be characterized as a terror organization, and they are using a website to convey messages and encourage terrorist acts – there is a real and immediate need to take that site down.”

During the hearings, the panel was told that internet users who are determined to circumvent the new restrictions will be able to do so fairly easily. Thus, the new law will mainly reduce the chances that someone will unwittingly be exposed to problematic content.

“With pedophilic material or [content relating to] the sale of hard drugs, the justification for blocking sites increases, and the effectiveness also grows since all countries will cooperate in removing this content from the internet,” said the Shin Bet counsel, quoting from a position paper put out by his office.

“But the more legitimate the content is in the nation of origin, such as a legal gambling site, or the site of an organization that is not termed a terror organization in that country, and especially when the problematic activity is not related to Israel – the more complicated the picture gets.”