New in the Bank Account

If the proposed legislation "Distributing the State's Shares of Bank Leumi to the Public, 2005" is approved by the Knesset Finance Committee tomorrow, the citizens of Israel will find themselves naked and exposed to an intrusive and unbridled government.

If the proposed legislation "Distributing the State's Shares of Bank Leumi to the Public, 2005" is approved by the Knesset Finance Committee tomorrow, the citizens of Israel will find themselves naked and exposed to an intrusive and unbridled government.

Under the cover of the new law, the state would invade our private lives to collect confidential information, cross-check the data held by government ministries and establish a huge database.

The legislation, intended to distribute Bank Leumi shares to the public, brings the privatization fever led by the finance minister to new heights. Beyond the suspicion that the bill's main purpose is to curry favor with voters on the eve of elections, a political payoff designed to placate those whom the finance minister forgot during the past two years, and over and above the protest raised by the treasury's attempt - contrary to prior promises - to sell the state's share in Bank Leumi before completing negotiations with the bank's workers - the bill is sloppy and defective, and perhaps even intentionally mean-spirited.

Under the guise of ensuring a fair distribution that reaches every citizen, the state is creating a database that would flagrantly violate our privacy. The bill states that in order to distribute the shares, the Population Registry and the National Insurance Institute (NII)would provide the treasury's accountant general with a list of all Israeli citizens over the age of 18. The details provided would include first and last names, ID number, year of birth and address. The accountant general would then make an effort to locate the bank accounts of those appearing on the list. How would the accounts be located?

The NII would provide the accountant general the account details of those eligible for the benefit. If appropriate accounts are not located, the accountant general would turn to the Defense Ministry, IDF, Education Ministry, Tax Authority, HMOs, the Union of Local Authority's automation company and the local authorities themselves with requests to transfer the information they have on bank accounts.

The accountant general would also request information from the banks, the Justice Ministry's custodian general, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, the Social Welfare Ministry, the Health Ministry and the Office for Rehabilitating the Disabled.

In other words, the accountant general would be authorized by the law to cross-check information held by all government authorities to locate the bank accounts of Israeli citizens. If a citizen has more than one account, if he shares an account with another person, if a person holds accounts in different cities for one reason or another, everything would be exposed and revealed to the authorities.

The intrusiveness of the government knows no limit. Without our consent, the accountant general would receive information on our bank account and branch, and whether it is a securities account or an account with a lien on it. If more than one person has rights to the account, the identifying details of all of them would be provided. Data on the extent of activity in the account would also be provided. If the person with rights to the account has a legal guardian, identifying details of the guardian would also be passed along.

The accountant general would not only know the bank account numbers of each and every one of us, but also their type, status and activity, as well as our economic partnerships.

Even George Orwell's Big Brother would be impressed by such an innovation: The state assumes the right to penetrate into the private economic life of its citizens without asking for their consent, and all this in an effort to "benefit" them. This information collected would not be for the accountant general's eyes only. He would be joined by his staff and anyone else working on his behalf with access to the aforementioned database.

A large team of treasury officials would gallop into our private accounts. Not a lone Trojan horse, but an entire herd. The huge amount of data in their hands could be used to implement the law, or to implement a court order. Would the system resist the temptation to use this data to track down those who owe alimony, lost taxpayers, bankrupt citizens or anyone else the state decides to entangle in its tentacles?

It is not clear whether what we have before us is an act of iniquity or of ineptness, but it is perfectly clear that this law is unconstitutional and constitutes a blatant violation of the right to privacy. Such a law would not stand the test of the High Court of Justice or the test of reasonableness in the eyes of Israel's citizens.

Of course, this could all be done differently: The proceeds from the sale of Bank Leumi shares, a tidy sum, could be transferred to state coffers and earmarked for education or social welfare. But then Benjamin Netanyahu would be unable to appear in the skies of Israel as a merciful and compassionate Santa Claus showering us with money.

The citizens of Israel should block the finance minister and tell him: "No thanks. Don't give us presents. Don't invade our privacy. Talk with the workers. Establish a public fund to distribute the proceeds from the bank sale to worthy causes. And don't think for a minute that you can buy us, not even with a share in Bank Leumi."