Under 'Big Brother Law,' Telecom Firms Would Tell All to Police

The Knesset's law committee was shocked to discover yesterday that the police have been abusing the so-called "Big Brother Law" by forcing telecom companies to give them subscriber information beyond that allowed by law.

Cellcom officials told the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee of police attempts to circumvent the Knesset via regulations under this law.

The officials said that the police have been asking them for additional information about customers, including the date a customer joined the company, the type of service he or she receives, the type of phone he or she uses, the name of the agent who arranged the service, and how account payments are made.

The "Big Brother Law" passed last year allows the police to establish a comprehensive database of telephone numbers, cell-phone numbers and other telecommunications data.

It entrusts the public security minister with promulgating regulations governing issues such as how the information will be stored, who will have access to it and how supervision will be conducted, but requires the law committee to approve these regulations.

However, a draft regulation submitted by Public Security Minister Avi Dichter states merely that "the database manager will conduct supervisory and oversight activities from time to time as laid down in police procedures."

In effect, this means the police would decide for themselves how to handle oversight, without the committee's approval.

Committee chairman Menachem Ben-Sasson brought police violations of the law to the committee session for debate.

"If [the police] are really trying to circumvent the committee via internal orders and procedures, that is unacceptable, and is liable to come at the cost of our confidence in them," Ben-Sasson said.

The police's conduct would make it harder for the committee to approve future police requests, including the request to allow it to set up a biometric database, he added.

The committee, which met yesterday to approve amendments to the law, received a letter from the Public Defender's Office, criticizing the police's conduct.

Deputy Public Defender Gil Shapira wrote that he was astonished at the "referral to police procedures" as everything was supposed to have been anchored in the amendments. Shapira warned that "the right to the access to the databank includes hundreds of policemen, if not more."

The committee did not have time to deal with the amendments and focused on the police's violations of the law.

MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu) told the police officials at the meeting that "this is a warning light. I can already envision the inquiry committee."

Ben-Sasson said he took an extremely grim view of the affair. "Next you'll come to us to pass laws like the biometric databank law, and if [we] don't have complete confidence that [you] are not trying to hide things from us, we won't be able to pass it. Our prestige as Knesset members who believe in the law is at stake. We never believed we'd discover such failures," he said.

He said the amendments would not be approved until the committee is assured that the police would not violate the law.

Dichter's office said in response that the only thing police want to decide for themselves is the frequency of oversight activities, but "if the committee thinks it's better to arrange this matter as well via regulations, there's no problem from our standpoint."

Superintendent Elazar Kahane of the police legal adviser's office said at the meeting that the police "treats the law with the utmost sensitivity." He said Cellcom should have come to the police with its complaints rather than to the committee.