Daily Israel Report

IDF Censor to Monitor Journalists' Social Media Accounts

The IDF censor will now monitor journalists' and bloggers' social media accounts – and you don't even have to be Israeli
By Gabe Kahn
First Publish: 5/4/2012, 1:46 PM

Sima Vaknin-Gil
Sima Vaknin-Gil
באדיבות המכללה האקדמית נתניה

The IDF military censor will be assuming a more ominous role as it begins monitoring the social media accounts of Israeli journalists and bloggers for potential violation of censorship provisions. 

Col. Sima Vaknin-Gil told attendees at the Digit 2012 conference at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, that the new system will monitor visual and textual information on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, on blogs and on traditional news sites.

"The new system will examine information using key words labeled in advance," she said, stressing it would help her office monitor information that was previously difficult to track.

"I think that you can't try to catch everything," she said, "because that will make the censor lose its relevance, and furthermore – its morality."

Privacy and rights activists in Israel have expressed concern that the system follows the same conceptual format that Chinese and Iranian security services use to track dissidents.

Technology experts, however, note that such systems are notoriously arbitrary and often produce nonsensical results - and can often flag highly personal correspondence with no security ramifications.

Vaknin-Gil insisted that "as the chief censor, I have no intention of going into people's personal diaries, and it important for me to note that we do not 'sit' on private Facebook accounts."

"The censor is perceived as a body trying to control the Internet, to no avail. This is a mistake – we try to operate within the Internet only in terms of elements related to us."

She made reference to recent incidents of censored information being published on social networks and blogs to argue for the need to monitor journalists and bloggers.

Disturbingly, she specifically called out Jewish-American blogger Richard Silverstein, who is neither on Israeli soil nor under her office’s jurisdiction – who is presumably not among the “elements related to us.”

"The censor cannot reject everything," she added. "The censor can only touch things that are likely to harm the security of the state, and these incidents are few."

However, Vaknin-Gil herself expressed deep reservations about the role of the IDF censor and admitted that its existence runs counter to the very principles that drive Israeli democracy.

"I know that when I protect the security of the State of Israel I’m damaging freedom of speech," she said.  "Censorship and democracy do not go hand in hand."

"That’s why every day we ask ourselves whether we’re damaging freedom of speech or the public’s right to know," she added.

Critics note that the restraint of the IDF censor is deeply dependent on the morality of the individual appointee and – under someone without Vaknin-Gil's reservations – could easily be cast aside.

They also note that many democracies maintain their national security without the existence of such a post.