The police recently made a routine request to a cell phone company for information on a customer and tried to obtain info to which they were not entitled.

The chairman of the Knesset Law Committee was miffed: "You will soon want us to approve other  laws that entail an encroachment on privacy, and I'm not sure we'll be able to."

Israel National News Hebrew correspondent Ben Sha'ul reports that the Committee held a session on Wednesday in which the matter was discussed.  The Cellcom phone company presented to the Committee a police request for information on the seller of a particular phone, its type, and the date on which the customer signed up.

The "Big Brother" Law

This information is not included in a 2007 law, nicknamed the Big Brother law, which allows the police to establish a data bank of information on phone users. The law allows the inclusion of only specific information from the phone companies: Phone numbers, owners' names and addresses, and information on the companies' antennas.  The objective is to enable the police to act quickly and efficiently in urgent cases.

Police officer Jacqueline Levy, the head of the Police Computerization and Information Department, admitted to the Committee that the request should not have been made, but said that it was submitted only in rough-copy form.

The Cellcom representative countered that the company understood it to have been an official, final request.

The Cabinet recently voted to back legislation requiring every citizen to provide fingerprints and a facial photograph for a new ID card.  The idea has aroused great controversy: proponents say it will prevent identity-theft and will enable the police to find criminals within hours, while opponents bemoan the encroachment on personal privacy and the apparent ease with which the information can be abused.

Ben-Sasson Issues Warning

Knesset Law Committee Chairman MK Menachem Ben-Sasson (Kadima) responded with great consternation to the illegal police request. "I view with great gravity the fact that the police overstepped their authority," he said. "Soon you [the police] will ask us to approve laws that have similar ramifications regarding invasion of privacy, such as the biometric information procedure, and I am not sure that we will be able to do so."

"The prestige of the Knesset Members who supported the [2007] law and understood its importance is now hanging in the balance," MK Ben-Sasson continued. "I am concerned at the use you are making with the authority you have received.  We have convened to approve the regulations regarding the storing of the data, never imagining that we would encounter such grave failures so quickly."

Ben-Sasson said that the regulations would not be approved until it is made clear that the police do not overstep their authority.  Other committee members expressed similar concerns.

Biometric Proposal Procedure

The new biometric proposal has been submitted to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation for its approval.  The Knesset must then prepare it for actual legislation.  The Israel Civil Rights Association, privacy experts in the Ministry of Justice, and the Israel Bar Associaton have all come out against the idea.