The Justice Ministry announced on Thursday that a major reordering of law enforcement’s powers to search suspects, their residences and their technological devices, an attempt to bring enforcement into the cyber age, passed its first reading in the Knesset.
The proposed bill, which passed on Monday, would in some instances be a radical departure from previous limits on searches.
Major innovations include allowing certain searches based on concern that crimes will be committed, searching people who are not suspected of committing crimes themselves, and searching people’s residences without their knowledge.
The ministry emphasized that the bill balances new, more effective techniques for investigating and catching criminals with respect for privacy rights.
But Anne Suciu from ACRI, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, slammed the bill as “ruining” prior “reforms of police power with respect to performing searches, demanding that citizens produce documents and objects during interrogations” and “perform searches on computerized material.”
She said the bill is a slippery slope toward “trampling on privacy rights” of the individual.
Possibly the most powerful new search power is the police right to search people’s residences without letting them know about it.
This power is limited to suspicions of severe crimes that would endanger lives or peace.
The Jerusalem Post has learned that this sort of search is already permitted sometimes, and the new bill could be viewed as creating stronger transparency requirements to defend privacy rights and to better specify the factors a judge must consider in issuing such a search warrant.
ACRI said that such clandestine searches of people’s homes would mean that Israel is no longer a free country, and said that the search is of the “most invasive kind” and “prevents a person any possibility of defending himself from the unjustified harm to his rights.”
Searches on grounds of concern about crimes not yet committed would require the approval of a chief superintendent or other higher-ranking police officials.
This kind of search, as well as searching people’s homes without their knowledge, would require sending a report to the attorney-general on the matter.
With the future crimes search provisions evoking some extreme measures, ACRI said that searches based future estimates of what crimes people would commit would be based on very flimsy foundations.