Editorial

Big Brother at Right Wing’s Service

Palestinians and Israeli Arab citizens have known for years that every digital move they made could haunt them, even if it’s supposedly protected under freedom of expression

US student Lara Alqasem sits for a hearing at the Tel Aviv district Court on October 11, 2018.
Jack Guez / AFP

Thursday’s court hearing on the appeal of Lara Alqasem, the young American imprisoned in a Ben-Gurion Airport facility over the past 10 days for allegedly supporting BDS, even while she holds a student visa, touched on a fundamental issue that threatens every man and woman who voice their opinion on political issues.

The hearing exposed the extent to which states monitor simple acts on the social networks and the frightening fact that they could be used against users in formal procedures. Every social network user’s digital fingerprints – every “like” or click to show attendance at an event, even if done in haste, long ago or with no intention of expressing support – is used by enforcement authorities worldwide to determine people’s fates.

To really understand Israel and the Middle East - subscribe to Haaretz

For example, the state claimed yesterday that its main evidence for Alqasem’s alleged support for BDS even in recent months – despite her insistence that she stopped being a member of the organization, which she belonged to while studying for her bachelor’s degree – is that she confirmed on Facebook that she would attend certain events.

As though the idea that basic Facebook activity that people sometimes carry out offhandedly could serve as evidence against them isn’t scary enough, this alleged “evidence” wasn’t even submitted in Alqasem’s case. The reason for this, according to the state, is that they had been deleted (a strange argument in the era of screenshots).

This is one of several assertions against Alqasem that appear in the original report of the Ministry for Strategic Affairs on her political activity, most of which is based on Facebook information about the campus chapter to which she used to belong.

>> Read more: Israel’s ‘1984’ Moment in the War Against BDS | Opinion 

Alqasem is not alone, of course. Palestinians and Israeli Arab citizens have known for years that every digital move they made could haunt them even if it’s supposedly protected under freedom of expression. Now foreign left-wing activists are in the surveillance crosshairs, and similar testimony has been used against left-wing Israeli citizens.

This is the realization of the Big Brother vision: Ideological positions are gleaned from the web by governments, or worse: their envoys in civilian espionage organizations, who “snitch” on their political rivals. Cooking up criminal cases based on internet searches must be forbidden.