(photo credit: Reuters)
Two alarming items regarding communications in the internet age have come to
light over the past week or so. While one is domestic and the other
international, both should have civil servants and new media scholars around the
world reconsidering established positions on the laws and ethics of
The first is a story which deals with the ever-growing
scandal of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) news portal, Be’Hadrai Haredim. The name
of the site itself means “In Haredim’s Rooms” but is a play on words which means
behind closed doors. That could not be more appropriate.
In a major sting
operation, police uncovered what they are claiming is a widespread network of
blackmail, fraud, kickbacks – you name it. The site’s management and employees
allegedly extorted large sums of money from top members of the ultra-Orthodox
community including rabbis, businessmen and even Knesset members. The idea was
simple – pay up or be smeared on the premiere haredi news site.
were approached and told of a story that the site had which could damage their
“good name” and standing in the community. Even if it wasn’t true, reputation is
very important in the haredi community. Investigators say that millions in hush
money was paid out and the scope of this scandal is much wider than they
originally thought. The site is also said to have sold positive articles for
If true, this case is absolutely appalling on every possible level
and those responsible should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Unfortunately, I’m sure that this case is far from unprecedented.
sure that back in the day when there were few news sources, blackmailing people
by promising to publish/not publish a certain story was
Nowadays though, when there are more and more news websites,
what I find the most surprising is that this racket was allegedly going on for
over two years. Keeping something like this under wraps for such a long time is
no easy feat. Were people that afraid of the whistle-blowing consequences or are
there other elements in play? In all that time, did the victims of Be’Hadrai
Haredim not feel that the site had a strong enough competitor to turn to and
blow open the story? In any event, this is gives us a rare insight into mass
media in the orthodox world and should be followed closely.
I will say
that I believe the police went a bit too far in asking the attorney-general to
order the site to shut down in hopes that would encourage more people to come
forward and testify. The government should only use such powers to close a media
outlet in cases of national security, if at all. Surely the site’s credibility
is completely shot by now. Who would believe its content at this point?
Investigators must be able to make their case without resorting to these
The second item is more of a revelation, and comes courtesy of
Richard Clarke who served as counter-terrorism czar under three US presidents.
Clarke is someone worth listening to. He’s the guy who tried to warn the G. W.
Bush administration of an al-Qaida attack on American soil in early 2001. He
resigned in 2003 and the next year he went public with his knowledge and
famously testified in front of the 9/11 commission, apologizing to the American
“Your government failed you,” he said.
Clarke wrote an
editorial in The New York Times earlier this month mapping out the severity of
cyber-crime in the United States, particularly attacks which target American
businesses. I always knew that the espionage in cyberspace is a problem, but I
never realized just how big a problem.
In the piece and other interviews,
Clarke says that the Chinese have hacked their way into every major company in
the US. The names he mentions couldn’t be more familiar – Citibank, Google, EMC,
Lockheed, Nasdaq and others. Chinese hackers are allegedly stealing American
corporate research and secrets worth billions of dollars and Washington is
stumbling in its reaction.
According to Clarke, the US Congress can’t
reach an agreement on if and how to protect the private sector from such threats
and is urging President Obama to take unilateral action immediately. He suggests
that under the Customs authority, the government could inspect what comes in and
out of the United States via cyberspace. Clarke was sparse on the logistical
details but basically he’s proposing to at least stop the loot from being
stolen, even if the thief will not be caught.
One of the main problems is
the right to privacy. If any government were to monitor and collect the data
being sent through cyberspace, think of how easy it will be to abuse. Think of
how many more “Be’Hadrai Haredim” cases there could be if everyone’s information
was out there for others to see. On the other hand, it must be in every
country’s interest to protect domestic business from international espionage.
The recent cyber-attacks here in Israel which targeted credit card numbers
proved to us that these problems exist here as well.
The time has come to
admit that the rules of the game have changed. Cyberspace is no-man’s-land where
information is changing hands randomly and often illegally. People are taking
information and abusing it on all scales. We all know that, like money,
knowledge is power. So why shouldn’t we safeguard knowledge like we safeguard
money? Every government has the obligation to get involved by taking cyber
threats just as seriously as “real world” ones be it blackmail attempts or flesh
and blood espionage. Let’s just hope it won’t be too little too late before
criminals and enemies of a free societies get the upper hand.The author
is an independent media consultant Jeremy@jeremyruden.com