Police Wiretaps Climb Sharply in Peripheral Areas

Police in the north and south of the country stepped up their use of electronic surveillance in 2007. Wiretapping increased by over 100 percent in drug investigations and by 172 percent in the fight against organized crime. The police submitted these figures to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

Suddenly secret: The data was given to the committee two months ago, but unlike in recent years much of it was declared secret. Committee Chairman MK Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima) refused to open the document, on the grounds that its contents should be made freely available to the public. Chief Superintendent Gavriel Siso of the Investigations and Intelligence Department says the report was classified because the 2006 was leaked to the media before it reached the committee, "causing great embarrassment and consternation on the part of the minister of public security."

How many microphones?: Ben-Sasson was not impressed by the arguments of the police and insisted on the document's reclassification. The police backed down and reclassified it as confidential. In contrast to the previous year, the report for 2007 does not break out the surveillance figures according to landline telephones, mobile phones, microphone placements and e-mail monitoring.

Unmoved by criticism: The general figures were made public in February and showed that despite harsh criticism of the scope of electronic surveillance their overall use by police rose by 22 percent from 1,128 instances in 2006 to 1,375 in 2007. For the sake of comparison, in the entire United States the authorities carried out a total of 1,839 wiretaps in all of 2006, despite having a population more than 40 times the size of Israel's. The courts refused only 11 surveillance requests by the Israel Police in 2007.

Drugs top the list: In 2006 murder, attempted murder and manslaughter topped the list of crime investigations warranting electronic surveillance, with 299 instances, followed by drug offenses (251). In 2007, however, wiretapping on drug investigations rose to 512 instances, while its use for murder and manslaughter cases increased to 455 times in 2007. The greatest increase was for investigations into robberies, thefts and embezzlement, which climbed from 54 in 2006 to 173 instances in 2007.

Northern exposure: A look at the geography of electronic surveillance by the Israel Police shows that at least in this regard, the periphery is far ahead of the center of the country. Wiretaps in the Northern District increased from 261 in 2006 to 408 in 2007.