Legislation slated to be passed within a month will grant the police extra powers to check suspects' internet habits and phone conversations.
The "Communications Data" Law - known by its detractors as the "Big Brother" Law - is sponsored by MK Menachem Ben-Sasson (Kadima), the chairman of the Knesset Law Committee. The legislation is supported by the government, and a Ben-Sasson staffer told Arutz-7 it is expected to pass its final readings in the Knesset within a month.
The bill is designed to allow the police to access a large data bank of information gleaned from internet providers, phone companies and cable companies. "Just as the criminals have improved their technological abilities," Ben-Sasson says, "the police must be allowed to improve as well."
Though the final formulation of the bill is still being worked out, it appears that the data bank will include, for each citizen, his or her name, identity card number, address, phone number, and cellular phone ID number. It will also include antenna mapping, to enable the police to locate a given individual. Computer IP numbers or website addresses will apparently not be included.
The legislation stipulates that every time the police access the data bank, it must be reported for later review.
Policemen currently have access to such data - and even more - only by court order. However, the new law removes the need for a court order when police investigators face the need to "locate the perpetrator of a crime." In such a case, a policeman of a given rank and above must give his approval for the data to be accessed.
Opponents of the legislation do not feel that the safeguards on the law are sufficient, and fear that innocent citizens will have their phone and internet habits open to the perusal of police officers. They are particularly alarmed at the lack of a need for a court order in certain cases.
MK Ben-Sasson defends his bill by saying it will protect many innocent citizens from being wrongly suspected, mistakenly called in for questioning, and forced to produce alibis.
Ben-Sasson is not worried that the police will abuse their new tool. "Most of the policemen don't need the supervision," he says, "and the others will be careful because of it. The Israel Police operates in accordance with law. It is in no sense a criminal organization, and if there are criminal activities, they are flushed out and destroyed. We must trust the policemen, as long as the supervision upon them is effective."
MK Eitan: Still on the Fence
Arutz-7 discussed the bill with MK Michael Eitan (Likud), who is uniquely qualified to address this issue. A former Minister of Science, Eitan once headed the Knesset Subcommittee on Internet and Information Technology, and also led the initiative to form the Knesset's internet site. A Knesset Member since 1984, Eitan has chaired the Knesset lobbies on the Land of Israel and the Middle East Forum.
Eitan said the bill has not yet been formulated in its final format, "and therefore I can't yet say what my final position will be." However, he said, "To those who say it’s a 'big brother' law, I would like to remind them that the police, in their important war against crime, are actually protecting the many innocent people who suffer from crime. We must remember this at all times."
MK Eitan also said that great sensitivity is required in balancing between the need to protect sensitive personal information and the need to help the police do their job.
"I would also like to ask," Eitan said, "in our zeal to protect this private information, are we sure that it is sufficiently protected from the communication companies themselves, and their workers? True, there are laws protecting this information, but I'm not sure that they are air-tight."
Whom to Trust?
"MK Ben-Sasson, the bill's sponsor, has said we have to trust the police," Arutz-7 told MK Eitan. "Do you agree with this, in light of the dwindling trust for the police that we see today in so many population sectors?"
"I don't trust anyone, not even Ben-Sasson," Eitan replied. "We can trust only G-d. But on the other hand, we have to give the police the tools they need, and ensure that they are not abusing them."