Israelis 30 Times More Likely to Be Wiretapped Than Americans

The number of wiretaps performed by the police rose 22 percent last year, from 1,128 in 2006 to 1,375, despite Knesset members' complaints that this tactic is overused. Over the last five years, the number of court-approved wiretaps has risen 42 percent.

By comparison, only 1,839 wiretaps were carried out in the entire United States in 2006.

According to Professor Yoram Shahar of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, this means that per capita, Israeli policemen use 20 times as many wiretaps as do their American counterparts, and a random Israeli is 30 times as likely to be wiretapped as a random American.

The 2007 data was given to the Knesset Constitution Committee yesterday by Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, in compliance with a law that requires annual reports on the extent of wiretapping.

The committee, which also functions as a parliamentary committee of inquiry on wiretaps, has frequently lambasted the ease with which courts approve police requests for wiretaps. In 2006, judges rejected only seven such requests, or 0.5 percent of all those filed. In 2007, they rejected 11, or about 0.75 percent of those filed.

In total, police filed 1,484 requests for wiretap permits last year. Of these, 98 were either rejected or approved but subsequently not implemented. They actually eavesdropped on 958 people (since in some cases, several applications related to a single suspect), up 23 percent from 778 people in 2006.

Police tapped 1,925 phone lines in 2007 (since some applications covered more than one line), up 60 percent from the previous year's figure of 1,205. Altogether, 346 investigations last year involved wiretaps.

In addition, the Justice Ministry unit that investigates police malfeasance wiretapped 21 people and 38 phone lines last year.

Constitution Committee Chair Menachem Ben-Sasson (Kadima) said that the data bolsters the committee's sense that the situation must be changed through legislation. He said the MKs are considering four proposals:

* Requiring police to report to the courts on each wiretap's contribution to the investigation.

* Appointing someone to play the role of "defense attorney" at wiretap hearings, which are currently attended only by the judge and police investigators.

* Requiring police to give defendants all wiretapped material, and not just the material they consider relevant to the case.

* Requiring tapes and transcripts to be destroyed after a certain amount of time.