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'Police State Powers' to be Granted to Many Govt. Ministries

A new proposal would substantively increase the state's powers to surreptitiously gather e-mail and cellphone information
By David Lev
First Publish: 5/17/2012, 10:55 AM

Police at a demolition
Police at a demolition
Flash 90

A new proposal by the Justice Ministry would substantively increase the state's powers to surreptitiously gather information from electronic communications involving Israelis. The law would expand the powers of police to conduct wiretaps and read e-mail of Israelis on behalf of not only security agencies, as the current law allows – but on behalf of other non-security agencies, such as the Agricultural Ministry, the Environment Ministry, the Antiquities Authority, and others.

Currently, investigations of this type can be carried out by police, military police, police internal affairs, and the Tax Authority. Such investigations may be carried out if a senior security official approves them.

The Justice Ministry, which is proposing the change, said that the current law permitting investigations – called the “Big Brother Law” - was too limiting. Before the law was enacted in 2006, police could ask the courts to authorize a wiretap, email search, or seizure of computer files in any investigation. Now, those powers are limited. “Our experience has been that preventing agencies from having access to this information has unfairly hobbled their ability to conduct investigations,” a spokesperson for the Justice Ministry said.

Formerly, a court order was required for these investigations, but the Big Brother Law allows for investigations to be conducted if a senior police official, or a senior official in another security organization, believes that it is justified. The agencies that will be covered by the law's expansion, such as the Environment Ministry and the Antiquities Authority, have their own enforcement arms, and senior officials in those ministries will also have the power to order wiretaps and e-mail investigations if they decide they need to for an investigation. However, they will still need police approval to make use of location services on cellphones, the Ministry said, because accessing that information is, as far as they are concerned, a more severe violation of privacy.

The change would also allow the additional ministries to issue subpoenas to banks and other private companies for information on clients, as well as complete lists of phone numbers that calls were made to and from, details of text messages, information on mail and package delivery, and more.