State May Charge Tiberias Mayor With Stealing City Computer Files

Prosecutors have tentatively decided to indict Tiberias Mayor Zohar Oved for illicitly copying files from the municipal comptroller's computer.

They have also tentatively decided to file charges against Avner Sharon, the CEO of the computer company that actually did the job. A final decision will be made only after a hearing at which Oved and Sharon can try to persuade prosecutors to drop the case.

In 2005, Oved hired Sharon's company to copy files from the municipality's main server and from three of its employees' personal computers. The official pretext was that the city was reviewing its data security. But prosecutors suspect the real purpose was to allow Oved to get information about what subjects the comptroller, Benny Eliyahu, was looking into at the time.

After the job was completed, prosecutors say, Sharon gave the mayor a disk containing samples of the material that had been copied. He also gave Oved printouts of some of the files. Later, he gave the mayor two hard disks containing the entire contents of the server and the three PCs, along with a program that would enable him to search them easily.

The files taken from Eliyahu's computer, which included the contents of his e-mail account, were later used as evidence in a disciplinary case brought against him by the municipality. The disciplinary court convicted Eliyahu.

Two months ago, however, Judge Noga Ohad of the Central District Court in Petah Tikva overturned the conviction. In her verdict, she wrote that "the copying of the appellant's personal e-mail account constitutes a violation of his privacy. It is like someone pawing through his intimate personal effects." She also said this constituted illegal wiretapping.

The city had argued at the time that "any reasonable employee" knows that an e-mail account given him by the city and located on the city's server is accessible to other municipal employees. But Ohad said it was completely unreasonable for the subject of a comptroller's audit to be able to access information relating to the audit, as that could expose the comptroller's sources or enable the subject to obstruct the probe.

Prosecutors plan to charge Oved and Sharon with conspiracy to commit a crime, breaking into a a computer for the purpose of committing a crime and violating Eliyahu's privacy.