The following item sounds as if it comes from some other country, where there are no laws, no courts and no human rights. But from information obtained by Haaretz, it’s happening here, in Israel.
In recent years the police have been spying on internet users. It has been monitoring the traffic of certain users, and following all the visitors to selected websites. This information has been confirmed by technical sources, and by documents shown to Haaretz and the podcast “CyberCyber.”
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To conduct this surveillance the police make internet service and cellular providers integrate a mechanism into their servers that transmits the users’ activity through a system that the police control without users’ knowledge. This monitoring has no legal oversight and is conducted without any court orders or any other kind of control.
The police would not respond to Haaretz’s questions on the matter, but did not deny that the system exists. They claim that all their activities are lawful.
The internet has over the years been considered a technology that would disseminate the message of equality and democracy to the entire world. Regimes that have blocked access to it, like Iran or China and its great firewall, seem like anomalies – conservative dark fortresses that have no chance of fending off the tsunami of internet freedom and whose days are therefore numbered. But recently it turns out that even countries who call themselves Western democracies conduct surveillance of their citizens, seriously compromising their privacy.
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The Shin Bet security service has, by law, full access to all Israeli communications traffic. When the coronavirus pandemic erupted, the Health Ministry pressured the government to compel residents to install tracking apps on their phones, and now it turns out that the police can also “oversee” the internet and users’ movements.
Citing concerns about terror, money laundering or pedophilia, Israel continues to gnaw away at personal freedoms. More and more abilities to monitor people are being allocated to various agencies, along with more and more direct censorship mechanisms in place on social media, without the public knowing what’s being done to “protect us.” To fight the gradual penetration of dangerous practices from the security realm into the civilian realm, we must first break free of the Israeli tendency to support the empowerment of the various security agencies.
It’s not clear how legally valid this police scrutiny is, or what justifies such a gross invasion of citizens’ privacy. The attorney general must examine whether the police are acting lawfully, and citizens must wake up and fight for their privacy.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.