New Law Allows Israeli Security Agencies to Record Calls and Texts of Intel Workers

Shin Bet and Military Intelligence can now record phone conversations and text messages of intelligence employees with access to sensitive materials

Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman speaking at a cybersecurity conference in Tel Aviv, June 27, 2017.
Moti Milrod

A bill expanding the electronic surveillance powers of state security agencies over their employees was passed by the Knesset on Monday. It allows the heads of the Shin Bet security service and of Military Intelligence to record the phone conversations and text messages of intelligence employees with access to sensitive materials.

The amendment expands an existing law, and for the first time allows surveillance of instant messaging and emails of employees. The surveillance will be limited in time: It may be employed for two periods of 15 days each, with an extension permitted only if authorized by the attorney general.

Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman MK Avi Dichter (Likud) and MK Jacob Perry (Yesh Atid), who were Shin Bet chiefs in the past, said at a recent committee meeting on the subject that in their combined 12 years as heads of the agency, they never made use of the similar but more moderate authority they had under the previous version of the law because of its problematic nature.

According to the new version of the law, a request can be made to listen to all conversations of an employee of the security establishment who has access to sensitive information, if those conversations are made using equipment provided by the employer for incoming or outgoing conversations. According to a report prepared by the attorney general for the Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee, this means that any mobile phone, email, text message, instant messaging app or social media message can be surveilled.

When employees with access to sensitive materials is hired, they will be informed in writing that such surveillance may be employed and will sign a document noting that they have been made aware of this. They will receive a reminder of this every year. Employees who are already serving in such positions and have not been informed of the possibility of surveillance will be informed within two weeks of the passage of the law.

Members of the Knesset committee added an instruction to the law requiring consideration of other means before seeking authorization for surveillance, and if such surveillance takes place, the breach of the employee’s privacy must be kept to a minimum.