Police: Judges Almost Always Let Us Listen to Wiretaps of Protected Individuals

In 19 out of 20 cases in which the police's international investigations unit requested permission to listen to wiretaps of professionals who by law enjoy immunity from being tapped, judges approved the requests without first listening to the tapes themselves, a police representative told a parliamentary inquiry committee on wiretapping yesterday. Doing the latter would have enabled them determine whether police should be allowed to hear the the recordings.

In the one case in which a judge did listen to the tape in question, he subsequently forbade the police to do so, said Superintendent Tali Rubin, head of the unit's wiretapping division.

However, Rubin added, in at least three cases, these wiretaps led to indictments against the professionals.

In its current form, the law grants immunity from wiretaps to lawyers, doctors, psychologists and clergymen. The committee's discussion yesterday focused on situations in which police inadvertently tape members of these professions in conversation with the actual target of the wiretap. In such situations, the rule is that police may not listen to that portion of the tape without a judge's permission.

However, Rubin's data revealed, judges usually approve such requests without bothering to listen to the tapes themselves to determine whether permission is appropriate.

Altogether, according to Superintendent Eliezer Kahane, of the police's legal department, there are more than 100 cases a year in which wiretaps pick up conversations with legally protected professionals. Due to a lack of manpower, however, only in 20-30 of these cases do the police actually request court permission to listen to these tapes.

Committee Chair Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima) commented that though the law entrusts the judiciary with the supervision of wiretaps, throughout the committee's investigation, it has found that "the court has disappointed us." In addition to Rubin's figures, he was referring to data presented at earlier committee sessions revealing that judges rarely refuse a police request for permission to wiretap a suspect, even though the number of such requests filed annually approaches that in the United States - whose population is more than 40 times bigger.

In response to Rubin's figures, Judge Alon Gillon, the deputy director of the Courts Administration, argued that in many cases, the other evidence presented by the police is sufficient for a judge to conclude, even without listening to the tape in question, that investigators need to hear the protected conversation.