High Court to rule on show-cause order against 'big brother' law

The High Court of Justice on Monday heard a petition calling for far-reaching changes in the "big brother" law, due to go into effect on June 27, and said it would decide whether to hand down a show-cause order in the coming days. The controversial law grants police officers and representatives of other investigative bodies the right to ask for a court order to obtain information from all private communications firms, including telephone and cellular phone companies and Internet servers, on any client if the request fulfills a few conditions. The conditions specified by the law include "saving or protecting lives, uncovering, investigating or preventing crime, uncovering criminals and bringing them to trial and seizing property in accordance with the law." Attorney Dori Spivak, who represented the petitioner, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, called on the court to limit the type of crimes for which the police could seek an order to felonies, that is, crimes carrying a punishment of at least three years in jail. Currently, the law also empowers the police to seek information involving misdemeanors, milder crimes calling for a sentence of up to three years in jail. Spivak added that the law should require police to name the specific felony in which the suspect is allegedly involved and prohibit requests that are vaguely worded, such as requests to obtain intelligence on "criminal activity." Spivak also called for removal of the article in the law that forces the communications companies to divulge classified numbers to the police. The state's representative, attorney Dana Briskman, argued that the law as formulated by the Knesset was necessary to help fight crime. She added that in many ways, it contributed to human rights by codifying a situation that had already existed, creating for the first time clear-cut and transparent rules which the police must follow in order to obtain the information they want. Justice Esther Hayut asked Spivak why the petitioners opposed portions of the law when in practice, the police already had the authority to obtain the information from the communications company in other ways. Spivak replied that the law was "dramatic" in the powers it gave the police. It enabled them to obtain information in real time on the whereabouts of virtually any person, which Web sites the person browses and to whom he sends and from whom he receives e-mails. Justice Hanan Meltzer expressed concern that the law threatened the immunity of lawyers, journalists, psychiatrists, psychologists and others by enabling police to obtain information regarding their clients, sources or patients.