The Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee reviewed a new version of the Public Security Ministry’s “stop and frisk” law Wednesday, following protestations from coalition and opposition MKs that the original version gave police far-reaching authority to search a suspect’s person.
The latest version of the bill divides search authority between suspicion of terrorism and suspicion of criminal activity.
When a police officer suspects someone of committing a crime, the officer may search only for weapons or drugs if the person is making threats or cursing someone in public or engaging in otherwise intimidating or frightening behavior. Such searches may take place at any time or any place.
When there is a suspicion of terrorism, the bill’s instructions are similar to what they were for both terrorism and crime in its previous version: A police officer may search anyone, regardless of behavior, in a location that is thought to be a target for hostile destructive actions. Such a location can be declared by the regional commander for two months, and if he wants to extend it for up to 21 days, the police inspector-general will have to approve.
Police will have to inform passersby that they are in a zone where they could be searched, so that they can avoid the area if they wish.
The new version of the bill also states that the inspector-general must formulate instructions as to how to search someone for weapons “in a way that ensures human dignity, privacy and rights.”
The latest version of the bill came after Law, Constitution and Justice Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) ordered the committee legal adviser to reach a compromise with the Public Security Ministry.
Several MKs from the opposition and coalition continued to express concerned that the bill would target specific population groups, even after the new draft was presented to them.
One suggestion was to separate the criminal and terrorist aspects of the bill into two separate bills, and some opposition MKs said they would support the one to fight terrorism, because of the current wave of violence.
The bill is to be brought to a committee vote next week.
Association for Civil Rights in Israel spokesman Yaron Kelner said that the heavily amended bill, which represented a compromise by the parties debating the issue, is a “much better version of the law” and “showed the service we have done for all minorities, Arabs, Sephardim, Ethiopians” who often are profiled and harassed more often by police.
Kelner said the compromise bill strikes a “better balance between preserving security and preserving human rights,” though he would not declare a total victory in ACRI’s campaign against the original law, saying the current result “is more complicated.”
Regarding the security aspects of the law, the biggest improvements were the involvement of the police commissioner in extending the period of designating a security area for more than two months as well as making the entire bill an emergency measure that would expire on its own within two years, he said.
Further, Kelner noted that potentially separating out the security and criminal aspects of the law is a positive development and the maintenance of “reasonable suspicion” as the basis for searches is crucial.
At the same time, he expressed serious concern that the bill allows searches for all persons who were in a group with one problematic individual and that the list of actions which could qualify as a reasonable suspicion was still too broad and could still be easily abused by police, which he said was a pattern that had occurred in the past.
Israel Bar Association chairwoman for police matters Efrat Troim generally agreed that “the situation is significantly more balanced in its treatment of privacy rights and the public interest” to fight terrorism and crime.
At the same time, she emphasized how crucial it was that the security-terrorism and organized crime-fighting aspects of the law be separated, with the crime-fighting aspects being delayed to a later date as part of a more comprehensive reform of the law governing police searches.
Troim was concerned that without splitting up the distinct issues, courts might improperly interpret the crime-fighting aspects of the law according to standards for approaching terrorism, which are often more aggressive and more easily overcome civil liberty protections.
She also said that the terminology of the part of the bill which dealt with crime was problematic. Mixing in terms like “bullying” and wide definitions of lumping groups of people together could lead courts to underemphasize the importance that the Knesset legislators intended to place on protecting civil liberties, said Troim.
The existing law allows police officers to search a person’s body, clothing and items he or she is carrying if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person is carrying a weapon – which essentially means the police officer had to see something he or she thought could be a weapon in order to conduct the search.