Dear Israeli Voters, Your Info Is Vulnerable

Haaretz Editorial
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A man holds a laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him.
Haaretz Editorial

An app used by Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party vacuumed information from the contact lists on party activists’ cell phones (including credit card passwords, telephone numbers and more), thereby violating the privacy of these contacts, who never gave their consent. The result is a database containing personal data on many Israelis being exposed on the internet.

This isn’t the first information security failure connected with an election campaign. According to the government’s Privacy Protection Authority, a serious breach of this kind happened prior to the March 2020 election, when the voter rolls were leaked to the internet together with other sensitive information that had been entered into the Elector app. But while the authority commented on the breach in this app, which was used last year by both Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, the parties were never fined, and as far as is known, no additional government oversight of apps was instituted. These breaches have turned election campaigns into a strategic threat.

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The reason why the government hasn’t submitted legislation to regulate the use of apps to spur on voters is obvious: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Cyber Minister David Amsalem and other politicians believe the Elector app is the secret weapon that will bring them victory in the elections. Therefore, they have no interest in restricting its power. For a country that aspires to be a cyberpower, this is a display of hypocrisy of the highest order.

The result is that the field of instant messaging is wide open. Politicians send texts to 9-year-old children; political activists call to reprimand voters who, according to their database, haven’t yet voted; and innocent Israelis discover that the database in which they are labeled as supporters of either the right or the left is exposed to anyone who’s interested. We must not become inured to this.

Even if there are no information leaks, the very fact that databases exist in Israel in which every citizen is classified on the basis of his or her political leanings threatens individual freedoms and may someday lead to discrimination on the basis of one’s political views.

Contact between parties and their voters is expected to be based more and more on digital media. Yet we can’t trust the government to limit the power of these apps, given the high likelihood that the winner of the election will always want to preserve this power.

Therefore, following the warnings the system received during previous campaigns, the Privacy Protection Authority must impose heavy fines on every party that violates Israelis’ privacy. In addition, it should consider launching criminal proceedings in cases of repeated violations or careless, irresponsible behavior by campaign managers.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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