Netanyahu Wants Israeli Law to Require Two-party Consent for Recording Conversations

Source says the prime minister's aim is to defend the right to privacy, but critics warn such legislation would harm police work and freedom of the press.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 2016.
Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering legislation to outlaw the recording of phone conversations without two-party consent. Netanyahu revealed his intentions in a meeting of cabinet ministers held this week in his office.

Netanyahu's intentions were first reported by Channel 10 on Wednesday. A source near Netanyahu downplayed the report, saying that "this was not a planned law and there's no reason to get too excited."

"Netanyahu isn't initiating any law yet. He said that the right to privacy cannot allow for someone to record someone else and air it without his knowledge," the source said. "It's a law in many states in the United States."

The source said however that such a law would not apply to police wiretaps.

In Israel, recording a phone conversation requires the consent of only one party. A recording of two parties when neither is aware of it is considered illegal wiretapping, punishable by up to five years in prison. The legality of such recordings in the U.S. is similar, except for 12 states in which the consent of both parties is required.

If passed into law, Netanyahu's legislation would seriously harm the police's investigative abilities, even if it is exempted, since investigators would not be able to use incriminating recordings taped by civilians.

It would also harm journalists and media outlets, which will be barred from publishing recordings of criminal or unethical behavior. Businesspeople and other citizens, who used recordings as a way of documenting transactions, would also be harmed.

In recent years, recordings have played a key role in main corruption affairs.  After reaching a plea deal with the State Prosecution, Shula Zaken, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's longtime aid, provided recordings that led to Olmert's indictment for obstruction of justice and to an investigation against his lawyer, Navot Tel-Zur. Yona Metzger, Israel's former chief rabbi, was recorded telling his driver "to take care of him" when investigated. Metzger was later charged with witness tampering.

"The amendment Netanyahu is introducing would prevent journalists from carrying out investigative reports and us from revealing the truth," lawmaker Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union), who heads the Knesset caucus for freedoms of speech and the press, said, adding that this was not the first time Netanyahu was behind legislation aimed at harming the press. "Once again, the source [for such legislation] is the prime minister, who also acts as the minister of war on the media," she said. "Only he who has so much to hide thinks of such laws."

Meretz leader Zehava Galon said: "Netanyahu's quest to quell the freedom of the press, the public's right to know and the criticism of public officials continues. This bill will prevent journalists from documenting problematic remarks by public figures and will allow them to avoid taking responsibility for their words."