Pre-election privacy harmed by turf wars

Even the most sensitive information is not properly protected, despite the potential harm that could be caused to the state or the public by the release of the information.

May 7, 2019 01:18
2 minute read.
State Comptroller Yosef Shapira

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

The right to privacy for Israeli citizens is not properly protected, due to internal battles among government authorities that have prevented a privacy law passed in 1981 from being updated, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira found in his report published Monday.
The report’s findings are significant, due to controversies about the right to privacy that emerged ahead of the April 9 election. The report does not mention the election in any way, but Shapira’s spokesman Shlomo Raz said “the election highlighted the sensitivity of the issue.”
In the six-month investigation, the state comptroller found improprieties in the work of the National Privacy Protection Authority in the Justice Ministry, singling out its lack of involvement in protecting databases in the public sector and the lack of enforcement policies.
But those policies cannot be changed without passing key legislation that has been worked on for six years and then updated last year as new legislation that was not advanced. The bill would have increased the enforcement ability of the authority’s registrar, but the state comptroller wrote that it was halted due to a turf war between the Justice Ministry and the National Cyber Authority in the Prime Minister’s Office.
“Until the law is updated, there are no effective sanctions, including on those who violate their obligation to protect key data, which harms the deterrent capabilities of the National Privacy Protection Authority,” Shapira warned.
He complained that the privacy authority is not involved in key government projects and important deliberations in the Knesset.

Governmental bodies that are legally obligated to report to the privacy authority do not bother to do so, making it impossible for the authority to conduct proper oversight.
Even the most sensitive information is not properly protected, despite the potential harm that could be caused to the state or the public by the release of the information.  The authority did not bother publishing any new directives from 2013 to 2016, and published just 15 in 2018, while the comptroller’s investigation was taking place.
Shapira said the time had come to recognize technological developments that impact how privacy is maintained.
The state comptroller called upon the Justice Ministry to prioritize key changes necessary in the law and set a timetable for passing them. He also called for an end to the turf war.
“The Justice Ministry, Prime Minister’s Office and the Cyber Authority must find the proper balance between the right to privacy and the Cyber Authority’s needs in order to enable the privacy authority’s enforcement capabilities to be advanced by law.”

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