Citizens' movements stored in off-the-books police database - report

"Either way, once finalized, the procedure will not be disclosed to the public," police said.

Israeli police officers seen during a raid on the ultra orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Meah Shearim, as they close shops and disperse public gatherings following the government decisions in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. March 24, 2020 (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Israeli police officers seen during a raid on the ultra orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Meah Shearim, as they close shops and disperse public gatherings following the government decisions in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. March 24, 2020
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
The movements of all vehicles in Israel are tracked by police and are stored in an unregulated database named Eagle Eye, Walla reported Wednesday. A source cited by the media site said the information "may be kept for years on end."

Launched in 2013, Eagle Eye tracks Israelis' movements using an automatic license plate recognition system (ALRS). According to Walla, the tracking system – mounted both on static cameras and police vehicles – is not regulated by state provisions, making the extent of its usage unlimited.

Regulation set out by the Justice Ministry in 2012 classified license plate recognition systems as databases under privacy laws, binding their operators to register the systems with the ministry and submit annual reports on their activities. However, according to Walla, the Eagle Eye database was not registered with the ministry as of July 2019.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) reportedly submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act that police disclose the extent of the operations of Eagle Eye, as well as the time the information on citizens' movements is stored in the system. 

Israel Police responded to ACRI, saying the system's activity was not standardized internally despite several years of operations. "Either way, once finalized, the procedure will not be disclosed to the public," police added.

"This is a database collecting information about innocent civilians," ACRI attorney Anne Suciu told Walla.
"The majority of the people tracked by the system and their license numbers, vehicles and identities are stored in police databases," Suciu said. "What kind of justification can there be for collecting this data if it is not regulated by law or even police procedure?"

Suciu then speculated on whether the Eagle Eye is open to all police ranks, asking Walla, "Is any officer cleared to access the database? What is he allowed to search in it? Is there any recording of a vehicle search made by an officer designed to ensure he is not looking for his ex-wife's car?"

According to the attorney, "when officers began using body cameras, a procedure was established, classifying the purpose of the recordings, the time the footage is stored and the limits of what is allowed to do with it." According to Sucio, "here, there are no boundaries."

Police told Walla that it "implements a variety of technological measures to ensure optimal service and protection to normative citizens. Generally, the measures are legally backed and their operation is delicate and regulated." 
An inside source cited by the site compared the system to the tracking done by Shin Bet, saying "What is the difference between that and mobile phones? With phones, too, you can go back in time and see where the phone was."

In late March, Yediot Aharonot reported a classified Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) database stored information on all Israeli citizens and most Palestinians from the West Bank. The data tracked by the security agency included movements, phone calls and text messages.

The active use of the Shin Bet system, referred to as "the Tool," on civilian subjects requires authorization by the attorney-general. At the time of the infamous Harpaz Affair, the agency refused to grant access to the Tool for the investigation. Used for counter-terrorism, the system is supervised by a committee consisting of cleared ministers that oversees Shin Bet's activity altogether. 

According to Yediot, the Tool is vaguely mentioned in the agency's annual report. Being a sub-division of the Prime Minister's Office, the Shin Bet operates by the authority of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A senior Shin Bet source cited by the paper said the Tool has "saved the lives of countless Israelis."