IDF soldiers engaged in cyber security 370.
(photo credit: yadlashiryon.com)
With each technological breakthrough comes the potential to gain access to
realms of life previously thought private. And with terrorism, particularly of
the political Islamist variety – still a real threat to the welfare and security
of peaceful societies – there is a temptation, even a moral obligation, to take
advantage of these technologies in the name of self-defense.
But how can
governments use technological advances to protect democratic societies from
terrorism without in the process undermining the very democracy which they set
out to protect? In the wake of leaks provided by Edward Snowden, 29 – who worked
at Booz Allen Hamilton, a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA) –
privacy and the limits of domestic surveillance have become a widely discussed
issue in the US in the past week.
In Israel too the same honest and open
discourse should be conducted on how best to balance democratic values such as
liberty and freedom from government intrusion with the need to protect ourselves
from those who would, if given the opportunity, take advantage of the freedoms
they enjoy to undermine open society.
Unlike the US, where the discussion
is taking place on the backdrop of leaks provided by a man with questionable
motives – who might have severely undermined American security by revealing
details about the PRISM domestic surveillance program – here in Israel we have
the opportunity to initiate our own self-examination and encourage our lawmakers
to provide closer oversight of our security apparatus without compromising the
necessary secrecy surrounding our counter-terrorism efforts.
that has come up in the US is debate over the use of “metadata.” Democrat Dianne
Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, argued that
the US government’s collection of thousands of phone records of Americans was
legitimate and not a violation of privacy because the information obtained did
not disclose the content of the phone conversations. Only records of who called
whom, when and from where, were provided by a Verizon
Admittedly, much can be gleaned about a person from this
metadata. For instance, where your cellphone is located at night might reveal a
romantic tie. And knowing who was called and from where as well the order of the
calls, can help analysts piece together important and intrusive
In Israel, meanwhile, the Ministerial Committee for
Legislation approved on Sunday the Fight Against Terrorism bill, slated to
replace the “national state of emergency,” applied since the British Mandate.
Unfortunately, the bill, which will now go to the Knesset plenum for a vote, did
not generate a major public debate. Media coverage focused almost exclusively on
the part of the bill that seeks to define as “terrorism” Jewish vigilante
actions against Arabs (“price tag”).
Yet there are other aspects of the
bill which should also worry Israelis who value basic democratic rights. For
instance, the bill, if passed, would anchor in law administrative arrests, house
arrests or other restrictions on movement that can be imposed without a trial.
The bill also permits the use of classified, undisclosed information as evidence
against defendants and expands the definition of “terror organization” to
include, among others, those responsible for “price tag” actions.
Association for Civil Rights in Israel has called the bill “draconian,” because
it gives broad powers to the executive branch of the government to pursue
“terrorists” without a trial.
The Israel Democracy Institute has also
voiced criticism of the bill, particularly with regard to the broad definition
of what the legislation considers to be a “terror organization.”
very least, a more serious discussion should be conducted before the Fight
Against Terrorism bill is made into law, particularly in the wake of recent
revelations regarding the NSA’s counter-terrorism activities.
world democracies are struggling to defend themselves against terrorism without
at the same time undermining the very freedoms which they value and which they
are willing to fight to protect. Only through lively public debate and careful
deliberation is it possible to strike the right balance. The present controversy
over the NSA provides a perfect opportunity to reevaluate our own
counter-terrorism policies and laws.