Why Did Google Israel Remove References to Former Double Agent?

Report says references to businessman were removed due to military gag order, but Google suggests move is related to libel suits.

Oded Yaron
Oded Yaron
In this April 17, 2007 file photo, exhibitors work on laptop computers in front of an illuminated Google logo in Hanover, Germany.
In this April 17, 2007 file photo, exhibitors work on laptop computers in front of an illuminated Google logo in Hanover, Germany.Credit: AP
Oded Yaron
Oded Yaron

Google has removed from its Israeli portal google.co.il the results of a search that refer to an Israeli businessman who in the past served as a double agent for the KGB and the Shin Bet security service, according to a report on Sunday on the Israel media website the Seventh Eye. The man's name was under a gag order imposed by the military censorship, but Google is hinting that the removal is due to libel suits rather than the military censor. A source at Google, who requested anonymity, said that the company had not received any requests related to the businessman.

The Google spokesman, who refused to answer a direct question on the subject, made do with an official reply which implies that the reason for the removal differs from what was previously believed.

“There are a very small number of instances when we remove links to websites from our search results, as when we respond to legitimate legal demands to remove content that violates local laws, including claims of libel,” said the company.

Evidence supporting the assertion that there may be no connection to Israeli censorship can be found in the Google search results, where it is still possible to find links to pages that specifically mention details about the man’s past in the intelligence world. It should be noted that even when links to sites related to other search words are removed due to a legal request, those sites will not appear at all in the searches – even those unconnected to the demand for removal. In many instances it is difficult to know where the request for removal originated.

The renewed interest in the businessman, who is considered to be closely associated with many figures in the government, arose last week after MK Miki Rosenthal (Zionist Union) said at a conference in Jerusalem that the man served in the past as a double agent of the Shin Bet and the KGB – despite the fact that the censor is forbidding the publicizing of his name. After the conference the MK told the daily Yedioth Ahronoth that he wasn’t aware that the information is under a gag order.

Activists in the Prodemocracy NGO (Ha’amuta L’democratia Mitkadmet) noticed that the page of results of the search for the name of the businessman includes a message that several search results were removed from the page. According to Google’s announcement, the search results were removed “in response to a legal request.” The website of the businessman’s company mentions that Google is among its clients.

In the announcement of the removal Google refers search engine users to the database regarding removal of materials from the Internet. But the links lead to pages in which it is written that the announcement is not yet available for viewing. “[The company] will post the declaration after we process it,” it says. The website’s administrators have yet to reply to Haaretz’s question on the subject.

It is unclear when Google was asked to remove the search results, but the links imply that the removal was implemented even before November. As happened recently regarding the removal of the search results for the protest website Baim Labankaim (Coming to the Bankers), the declaration does not appear in other versions of Google search engines such as google.com.

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