Israel outsourcing privacy?

Facebook case demonstrates that Israelis’ online rights are largely determined in US.

Using Facebook on the Internet 370 (R) (photo credit: reuters)
Using Facebook on the Internet 370 (R)
(photo credit: reuters)
When Facebook complied with 50 percent of the 113 requests Israeli government bodies made this year to release data on its users, it did so based mostly on US, not Israeli, law, the Justice Ministry told The Jerusalem Post.
“It should be noted that the company Facebook is an American company, and as such submits to these requests in accordance with American law on providing digital information in its possession, and according to legal assistance agreements between the United States and Israel,” a Justice Ministry spokeswoman said.
Because Israel is party to the Mutual Legal Assistance Party Treaty (MLAT), it can request information on Facebook users – or users of any other US-based companies such as Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and so on – through the US government on criminal or security matters.
“Countries that have a mutual legal assistance arrangement with the US may utilize this channel to try and seek data from a provider such as Facebook as an alternative to submitting a direct request to us,” Facebook’s Pan-Euro Policy Communications Manager Linda Griffin explained to the Post. “If successful, an MLAT request will result in the issuance of US legal process to the provider, such as a court order or search warrant,” she explains.
“There are US laws that permit the government to monitor communications of users of various content management service provider websites that inevitably, undeniably have Israeli users,” Adam Snukal, shareholder in Greenberg Traurig’s Tel Aviv office said. “The fact that the US government is permitted to monitor users can potentially have an effect on Israeli users.”
As Facebook’s Wednesday report accentuated, companies do not honor every government information request, and may even push back if they feel the government hasn’t complied with its own requirements.
Though treaties require there to be a criminal or security element, questions about how much information is collected and under what circumstances have come to fore since June, when US government contractor Edward Snowden’s June revealed the existence of extensive US spying programs.
The implications for international users of US-based Internet companies rattled many US allies.
In July, EU ambassadors met over revelations that the US was tracking their citizens. Since April, Google’s privacy and data collection policies have spurned threats from both France and Spain to fine the company and a stern warning from the Indian government. More recently, privacy campaigners in the UK filed petitions against the company. And in the US itself, the American Civil Liberties Union filed lawsuits against the government over the Snowden revelations.
In Israel, however, little has been made of the issue.
“Unlike the United States, we’re not having a public discussion on this,” said Avner Pinchuk, head of Information and Privacy at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. “ACRI hasn’t even dealt with it.”
While privacy is a major issue enshrined in the US constitution and Europeans are concerned about [privacy as a matter of] dignity, he notes, Israelis are less preoccupied with the issue.
Recent revelations that the Israeli government could easily access cell-phone usage data— more invasive than the phone metadata scanning program Snowden[’s first] unveiled—raised few eyebrows, he said.
“We need to make a huge effort so that the minimum information on what we do and what we don’t do will reach a public discussion,” Pinchuk says.
One possible reason that Israelis take the issue in stride is a greater willingness to sacrifice for security.
“As technology evolves, privacy tries to play catch-up, and as security threats on a global scale become more serious, technology is a means through which terrorists are plotting and planning,” Snukal noted.
“Like it or hate it, some of it has to get done to protect civilians. How it gets done is still very much a question mark.”