Likud Election App Is Like Coronavirus for Israel's Security, ex-Mossad Chief Says

Anyone with an Israeli phone number can access the Elector app's full voter database ■ High Court dismisses petition against the app: ‘It's a civil matter'

Netanyahu and Pardo in Tel Aviv, July 2015
Amos Ben Gershom / GPO

Former Mossad head Tamir Pardo warned on Wednesday that the Elector app, which was used by the Likud party and exposed personal details of millions of Israelis, is like a "security coronavirus," endangering Israel and that use of the application must stop immediately.

"This application endangers Israel's security, it endangers the safety of IDF soldiers and commanders, Shin Bet security service operatives and Mossad operatives," Pardo said. "It's spreading like a plague – and like a disease, we need to stop it and isolate it before we lose control." Pardo beseeched Israelis not to use the app and to refrain from voluntarily adding information to it: "I implore you, please, remove it, erase it, and do not share information on it."

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On Tuesday, the High Court of Justice dismissed a petition against the use of the application. Beforehand, the Central Elections Committee refused to rule on a petition banning Elector's use to gather voter information and prevent its use by Likud polling station observers to record who voted on Election Day.

The petitioners asked the High Court to order Central Elections Committee Chairman, Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel, to hear their initial request to ban the app. The panel of High Court justices ruled that the Central Elections Committee does not have the jurisdiction to rule on matters concerning violations of privacy laws, and therefore decided not to intervene.

Pardo made his comments in a conversation with Dr. Anat Ben-David, a senior lecturer at the Open University of Israel who studies the history and geopolitics of the internet and social media. She has studied the Elector app and warned the Central Elections Committee about its privacy and secrecy violations. Her recommendations were included in the petition filed to the committee against Likud and the use of the Elector app.

Ben-David said anyone can install Elector and anyone with an Israeli phone number can gain access to voter information – including groups outside of Israel. In response Pardo said: “Our friend in Hezbollah who sits in Beirut can do it. The member of the Revolutionary Guards who sits in Tehran can do it. The Hamas member sitting in Gaza and Nablus can do it, too.”

Pardo said these groups can obtain important information on any person in the voter registry through free access to the app, as well as information on their family members and their addresses. If they have the name of the commander of a specific brigade in the Israeli army, a Shin Bet or Mossad officer – they can enter it into Elector and receive his address and information on his family, said Pardo. “Anyone who uses the application today endangers the lives of the security forces of Israel.”

The High Court justices said that if the voter information had leaked out from the Likud database onto the internet, this was a very serious matter – but the way to handle such a leak would be by filing a civil suit. This is a very serious violation of privacy, and if it has occurred it is a civil injustice, said Justice Alex Stein. Those harmed have the right to a “host of legal remedies, including compensation, restraining orders and injunctions. Such remedies are granted in the regular courts, and not in this court in its role as the High Court of Justice,” wrote Stein.

All the major parties running in the March 2 Knesset election are using applications to manage their campaigns – but Likud is the only one who opened their app for mass use and allows access to the information in the voter registry. Likud asked Israelis to install the Elector app and enter information on their families and friends who were potential Likud voters.

The Elector app is easily downloaded from both the Apple App Store and Google Play. The app contains information on all registered voters, nearly 6.5 million Israelis, and allows Elector users to freely add additional information, such as phone numbers, relatives, political preferences and other comments about other voters.

This month, information security researchers and experts discovered a number of occasions in which the app and the voter registry were open to attack, and that it was very likely the information had leaked out numerous times to unknown groups.