Petitions urges change in 'Big Brother' Law

Law authorizes police to establish a far-reaching communications data bank on all residents of Israel.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) petitioned the High Court of Justice this week to delete some of the provisions of the "Big Brother" Law, which authorizes police to establish a far-reaching communications data bank on all residents of Israel. The law, which was passed by the Knesset on December 17, 2007, is due to go into effect at the end of next month. According to ACRI's legal representative in the petition, the Human Rights Program and the Program for Clinical Legal Education at Tel Aviv University, "the assumption upon which this petition is based is that the need for privacy and the obligation of the court to protect the right of the individual to privacy have not diminished in our time." On the contrary, the attorneys continued, "modern technology, data processing and cross-referencing using sophisticated computer programs makes it necessary to take even greater care that any authorization to limit the privacy of an individual be determined by a law whose aims are worthy and that does not cause disproportionate harm in achieving these aims." The law grants the police and other investigating bodies such as the Military Police, the Police Investigations Department and the Tax Authority the right to demand that Bezeq and the mobile and cable telephone companies hand over all communications data regarding their customers, including their classified and unclassified phone numbers and the serial numbers of every land and mobile phone in the country. This information allows police to know who has made contact with whom, and even the whereabouts of any person at any particular moment. The law states that the police must receive permission from a magistrate's court before approaching the communications companies. It also lays down criteria that the police must meet in order to file a request with the court. However, the criteria are broadly stated and include such vague conditions as "the exposure of crimes, their investigation and prevention" and "the exposure of criminals and their indictment." In emergency cases involving felonies (as opposed to misdemeanors), the law authorizes the police to obtain the data without a court order. Furthermore, the law forbids communications companies from informing their customers that they have handed over their details to the police. The petitioners demanded that the law be amended so that it would not apply to anyone suspected of committing a misdemeanor and that five of the provisions relating to suspected felons be moderated. For example, they argued that the law should include an itemized and limited list of felonies regarding which the police could ask the court for a permit to demand the data from the communications company.