Israeli Telecoms May Now Be Forced to Fund Shin Bet and Police Wiretaps

The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is expected to vote on the new provision Thursday, in wake of cabinet decision to ease state's responsibility for the funding.

Israel's cellular and landline telephone service providers would be required to fund any infrastructure work for the Shin Bet security service, the Mossad espionage agency, the Israel Defense Forces and the police related to state security and public safety, according to a new provision in the Economic Arrangements Bill submitted to the Knesset.

Yuval Diskin Shin Bet chief Moti Milrod
Moti Milrod

The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is expected to vote on the new provision Thursday. The arrangements bill is a supplement to the state budget.

According to one inside source, the infrastructure to which the provision relates involves facilities used for surveillance, wiretapping and locating missing individuals. The cost of providing such facilities is estimated at tens of millions of shekels per year from each company.

One common service offered by the cellular firms tracks the route taken by an individual over a period of hours based on data transmitted by his or her cell phone.

MK Nachman Shai (Kadima ), who is on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, was critical yesterday of the provision for placing the burden of funding the facilities on private corporations, saying the costs should be paid by the state.

The provision was added to the Economic Arrangements Bill following a recent cabinet decision calling for the costs to be imposed on communications licensees.

Ahead of today's Knesset committee hearing, Yaakov Gelbard, the CEO of the cell phone company Partner Communications (which does business as Orange ), sent a letter to the members of the committee expressing opposition to the proposal.

"There is no difference," he wrote, "between this bill and a bill that would require food retailers to open their supermarkets to the security forces at no charge [or] gasoline retailers to supply gasoline to the security forces at no charge ..."

Sources close to the legislation expressed surprise yesterday that the provision was coming before the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee rather than the Finance Committee, speculating this may be because the measure has a greater prospect of passage in the former committee.