Knesset C'tee Proposes Tougher Wiretap Legislation

The Knesset's committee of inquiry on wiretaps has recommended new legislation mandating stricter conditions for issuing orders for wiretaps, and tighter supervision of such operations.

Among other steps, the parliamentary committee recommends reducing the number of judges authorized to issue a wiretap order, to prevent the police from choosing which judge to approach with a request.

The committee concluded its deliberations yesterday and will be submitting its recommendations to the Knesset today.

The committee was established in late 2006 at the initiative of the chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, MK Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima), following what was deemed to be the possibly illicit wiretapping of then-vice premier Haim Ramon, in connection with allegations that he forcibly kissed a female soldier. The Knesset gave its approval to allow the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, headed by Ben-Sasson, to sit as the committee of inquiry - despite criticism that the body was politically motivated.

Among other testimony, the committee heard that judges rarely reject wiretap orders: For instance, in 2007, local courts approved 1,375 orders, but rejected only 11. In comparison, in the entire United States, only 1,839 wire-taps were approved in 2006.

The committee has recommended that only District Court presidents and some of their deputies may issue the orders, that the court issuing orders will continue to oversee the wiretaps, and that it will also be required when necessary in each case to restrict transcription of the phone calls in question.

The committee also recommended that wiretaps over periods of longer than six months receive special approval from the head of the police intelligence department, and for those of more than a year - from a district prosecutor.

The recommendations of a parliamentary committee of inquiry are not binding. However, as this committee is actually a Knesset body, it can propose legislation based on its recommendations. The fact that Ben-Sasson will not be serving in the next Knesset might be an obstacle to such legislation as it is unknown whether his successor will support them.