Likud lawmaker and former journalist Boaz Bismuth submitted a bill on Sunday that would prohibit publicly releasing a recording of someone without their agreement.
The bill, Bismuth’s first as a legislator, drew immediate fire on social media from a number of journalists, as such recordings, which are not legally considered wiretapping, are the basis of many exposés and journalistic investigations.
Bismuth submitted his bill, an amendment to the Privacy Protection Law of 1981, to the Knesset two weeks ago. He seeks to add to the definition of “privacy violation” the act of releasing a recording of someone that includes “sensitive information” about them without their permission.
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Sensitive information, as defined in Title II of the law, is any information about someone’s personality, private life, health condition, financial situation, opinions, and beliefs.
“The letter of the law as it stands is problematic, as the technological ability to record conversations should be mostly used to retain information for personal use and not for releasing it to the public in a manner that may compromise a person’s privacy,” Bismuth wrote in the explanatory text submitted with his bill.
The bill states that a violation constitutes both a civil and a criminal offense. The criminal offense, “malicious violation of privacy,” would carry a prison sentence of up to five years.
Among the journalists to voice opposition to the proposal was Channel 13 reporter Yossi Eli, who tweeted: “Let Mr. Boaz Bismuth provide explanations to that poor old woman, whose house an AC technician came and began to shake her down for a massive amount just because she’s a poor woman who doesn’t know any better, and was exposed only because we can do our job. Let Mr. Bismuth look into the eyes of parents who want to confront a day care worker suspected of abuse. A disgraceful bill.”
Avraham Bloch, head of the legal desk at Srugim, a site identified with the right wing, called the proposal “a disgrace” and “antidemocratic.” He added that “the saddest thing about Boaz Bismuth’s bill, which is intended to curtail the freedom of the press in Israel, is that this person was actually a journalist until recently.” The same sentiment was echoed by Channel 13 legal analyst, Baruch Kara: “How shameful. Unbelievable that this man was a journalist.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netnayahus son Yair is a proponent of expanding the definition of sensitive information under the law. In 2020, he addressed the release of recordings of him with friends as they were being driven by Shin Bet bodyguards to and from a strip club. “A driver recorded me and my friends as we were drunk and kidding around. Is this not wiretapping?” he tweeted.
In the recordings, he was heard telling the son of natural gas tycoon Kobi Maimon, “My father got your father $20 billion.” In the same recording, Netanyahu also made offensive statements about women, including a former partner of whom he said, “I should set her up with the guys – I’ll cover all my debts.”
Netanyahu has also benefited from journalists’ use of recordings. For example, a damaging recording of former Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit was released by Channel 12 in which he accused former State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan of stalling on closing a case against him, Mendelblit. The main political beneficiary of this report was Netanyahu, as it gave credence to his claims of politicization in prosecutorial decisions.