At 70, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein is not one of the younger powers in government, but he is one of the more forward-looking.
With cooperation from Dr. Eviatar Matania, head of the Cyber Bureau in the Prime Minister’s Office, Weinstein has helped push forward cooperative cyber efforts with the US as part of a move to try and make Israel the world’s third key cyber power.
Weinstein gives the impression that support from Matania has been lightning-fast, be it assisting in establishing a unit in the Justice Ministry to focus on cyber issues, or allocating a budget and human resources to tackle the subject.
The attorney-general met with his US counterpart, Eric Holder, around a year ago in a majestic room with a number of aides and an environment of seriousness that signaled an impressive commitment to the joint effort.
About half a year after that meeting, formal understandings were reached, including designating Deputy Attorney-General Roy Schondorf and US Deputy Assistant Attorney-General Bruce Swartz as the two justice departments’ pointmen on the issue.
Yuval Kaplinsky, the head of the Justice Ministry’s international law division on criminal matters, and Dr. Haim Simansky, head of a division handling technology and cyber issues, will also be heavily involved.
With that structure developed, mutual legal assistance between Israel and the US on cyber law enforcement is warping ahead. Eschewing the standard red tape that can plague international legal assistance even when it’s operating well, the two countries have set up a series of nearly instant contact points between prosecutors and investigators.
Instead of sending a dozen formal requests that might not arrive immediately at the right “address” or be answered for a while, ministry officials and their counterparts can pick up the telephone or fire off emails to one another and reach the person they know is handling the issue.
The new understandings have also paved the way for much faster information- sharing in battling cyber-crimes outside of a standard formal investigative framework, and locating cyber-criminals and their networks (which may not always be in the same country).
This is crucial, since cybercrime – including DDoS (Distributed Denial-of-Service, or purposeful attacks to bring down a site), hacking and phishing – morphs and changes at a radically different speed than crime in other areas.
Besides holding meetings at all levels, including with the FBI, the Weinstein-Holder initiative has involved ministry officials meeting with their counterparts from the Computer Crimes & Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) and the Child Exploitation & Obscenity Section (CEOS).
In addition to speeding up information-sharing and responses to legal investigations, there are other specific ways Israeli and US justice officials are aiding each other.
The US has been working on some cyber issues longer than Israel has – maybe by as much as 15 years – and officials hope to learn from US experience.
Part of this learning is expected to include Israeli officials physically shadowing their US counterparts in the FBI through cyber investigations, and US officials are expected in Israel as well.
Israelis can take cues at least partially from American ups and downs on questions such as whether to concentrate the new cyber unit at a national level or split it up into smaller local teams. On the flip side, Israel is a leader in cyber-technology, and there are areas in which Israeli technical knowhow can benefit US cyber law enforcement.
The understandings have also helped advance cooperation between ministry officials and representatives from major Internet players such as Google and Facebook.
The officials’ meetings with the companies were part of a new approach to cyber-crime-related law enforcement.
Traditionally, even with complex international crime, the goal is to “catch” or extradite criminals, collect evidence and bring them to trial in one country or another. But with cyber crime, sometimes it can be impossible to get hard evidence against an individual or to extradite criminals from countries that do not cooperate with Israel.
Also, the US or other countries may balk at assisting with an investigation of incitement to racism or violence, based on American Fourth Amendment objections, which protect Americans from some investigative acts.
In such cases, the closer working relationships with the Internet players themselves can sometimes resolve the issue by getting harmful content like incitement or violations of gag orders removed, or cyber safe havens for criminal activity terminated. For instance, while Facebook may not want to comply with criminal investigations on some issues, Israel may convince it that certain postings or uses of its platform violate the company’s own policies against violence and criminality.
Part of the understandings between Israel and the US have also involved enlisting some of these players to help guide where, how and under what circumstances such actions can be taken.
Theoretically the harm resulting from situations such as the recent incitement against Christians joining the IDF, or the revelation of a rape victim’s identity, could be mitigated quickly if the major Internet players were to block or remove such violent or invasive content. This may not help with violations of gag orders in cases like that of “Prisoner X” Ben Zygier, which are perceived to be public-interest issues, but it may save various minors and rape-victims from unnecessary heartache and cyber-slander.
This is the third article in a series of exclusive coverage of Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein.