Knesset to Discuss Granting Police Access to Phone Data

Police want access to lists of names, addresses by phone number; ACRI: Move would infringe on privacy.

A Knesset committee will discuss legislation Sunday to give the police access to all Israeli fixed-line and mobile phone numbers as well as information on devices such as computers and modems. So far, no member of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee has expressed opposition to the law.

According to a Justice Ministry document, the database would be the largest legal search engine in the Western world for police use.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said the establishment of the database, which would make it much easier for police to analyze wiretap data and conduct surveillance, would seriously infringe privacy.

Over the past few weeks, the committee has been preparing for its second and third reading of the law governing the police's access to phone information.

The police want access to online lists of names and addresses by phone number, in addition to the other way around. They also seek all unlisted numbers, Internet addresses, numbers for computers and modems, and cell-phone identifiers allowing the pinpointing of individual signals.

Committee Chairman Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima) said the intention was to give the police access to phone data and not computer data. The law envisions access to the database in life-and-death cases or to prevent a serious crime where a senior police officer could authorize access without a court order.

The police's deputy legal counsel, Superintendent Eliezer Kahana, told the committee that when he analyzes wiretaps he "has to sit and investigate, name by name ... and for each one I have to go to the phone company. That is a lot of time, a lot of money."

The Justice Ministry found that only Australia has a similar system, though not as extensive. Among the issues to be arranged are payment by the police to the phone companies for the information.

Attorney Sigal Shahav of ACRI wrote the committee that the database would give the police a great deal of information on people with no connection to crime.

Attorney Dan Koehl of the Israel Bar Association said that giving the police cell-phone identifier numbers would "turn some people into walking GPSs [Global Positioning Systems]," and through them, police could get to their friends and business associates. This database, Koehl addded, "would make citizens transparent."