Haaretz journalist Hagai Amit has uncovered a secret Likud database that contains the names of 1.1 million Israeli citizens, with all their identifying details. Along with their phone numbers, addresses and ID numbers, each one of these 1.1 million citizens is classified according to three categories: Likud supporter, opponent or floating voter.
The Likud apparently gathered this information through surveys it conducted, mainly through text messages it sent out. The database was exposed until Monday, which is a violation of privacy laws. Even after access to this database has now been blocked, essential questions remain. The law in Israel gives parties running for the Knesset access to voter and opinion poll databases. But this is a different matter entirely. It’s doubtful that citizens who responded to questions they received as text messages, later being classified according to their attitude to Likud, imagined that their answer to a question of whether they’d support Likud would be fed into a digital database that remained in Likud hands, forever, along with their family name, address and ID number.
The Histadrut’s little red booklets are a much-maligned part of this country’s Mapai-dominated past. The booklet, which attested to one’s political affiliation, made it easier in many cases to obtain work and gave priority in getting better housing, health and education services. Political affiliation must never be relevant to determining benefits. The choice of whether to share one’s political and party affiliation is a free choice one can make in a democracy. Such a choice is of particular importance in times of polarization, such as exist in Israel now.
Digital databases are much more dangerous and accessible than those notorious red booklets. The head of a local council, deliberating between two candidates for a municipal job, could make use of this information, which gives him access to the political leanings of a candidate, in making his choice.
The breach that was exposed in the Likud’s database is much more than a problem of information security. The Privacy Protection Authority at the Justice Ministry must redefine what is permitted and what is forbidden with regard to databases containing voters’ details that are held by political parties. There must be a law prohibiting the retention by political parties of databases that include voters’ details such as ID numbers and political preferences, with any party member having access to this data if he so wishes. It’s doubtful that the Privacy Protection Authority, which is subordinate to the Justice Ministry under Likud’s Amir Ohana, will see to this. This is one more reason to replace the present government in the upcoming election.