Israeli Courts Okay 20 Times More Wiretaps per Capita Than U.S., Knesset Committee Told

Israel carries out 20 times more wiretaps per capita than the United States, jurist Yoram Shahar told the Knesset's investigative committee on wiretaps yesterday.

Professor Shahar of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya urged the panel to instruct the courts to more strictly supervise wiretaps.

Shahar suggested that the judicial system adopt the U.S. model, which requires law enforcement agencies to report back to the judges who authorize wiretaps. The agents are required to present their progress on cases that involve wiretaps.

According to the professor's data, all U.S. law enforcement agencies carried out 1,839 wiretaps throughout 2006. This figure does not include warrants linked to national security issues. The Israel Police carried out 1,250 wiretaps, not including operations by the Shin Bet security service.

The previous year, 2005, saw 1,773 wiretap warrants in the United States, with Israeli courts issuing no less than 1,000, according to Shahar. He explains the figures by citing "the genuine American devotion to civil rights."

Between 2005 and 2006, Israel saw a 25-percent increase in the number of warrants for wiretaps The U.S., meanwhile, saw an increase of no more than 4 percent. Like their Israeli counterparts, U.S. judges seem reluctant to reject wiretap requests by law-enforcement agencies. In 2005, only one request in 1,773 was turned down in the United States. The following year, Israeli courts declined seven requests out of 1,250.

In 2001, the Knesset research and information center released a document revealing that Israel was issuing more wiretaps than other countries as well. That year, Israel, with a population of 7 million, carried out 1,773 wiretaps. Britain, with its 60 million inhabitants, carried out only 1,662 wiretaps. The courts of Australia, with a population of 20 million, issued 1,689 wiretap warrants in 2001.

The police did not present any data. Police officials said they would contact Israeli liaison officers in the U.S. to compile the relevant figures. Law enforcement officials, however, repeatedly assured the committee that Israel's policy on wiretaps was subject to strict and proper supervision.

Professor Menahem Ben-Sasson, who heads the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, said the figures were "disturbing." He said the police's claim that its wiretap policy did not need intervention was "reminiscent of the Israeli tendency to think that problems will work themselves out."

The committee on wiretaps was formed following the omissions revealed in the handling of the investigation into former justice minister Haim Ramon's actions. Last January, Ramon was convicted of forcibly kissing a female soldier.