Today Pearl Cohen hosted Prof. Joel Reidenberg for an intimate seminar that focused on the over-transparency of citizens’ information, the under-transparency of government data processing and the broader implications of these phenomena.
It was a rare opportunity for the practitioners to take a better look at the giant brother we all have – the government. Prof. Reidenberg offered a glance of the government activities while raising important questions such as: What do we really know about the sort of information the government is collecting? What are the repercussions of government surveillance on our constitutional rights and so on.
Here is Senior Partner Haim Ravia’s introduction to the lecture:
We’re usually concerned with the smaller brothers – companies collecting and processing our personal information. If we happen to really get worried, it’s typically about the power of the corporate big brothers – the Googles and Facebooks of the world. But it takes an Edward Snowden to turn our attention to government activities and at least here in Israel we tend to think that they are justified. Most, if not all, of us are willing to let the government know whatever it wants if it may help prevent a terrorist attack.
What do we really know about the sort of information that the government is collecting here in Israel?
The truth of the matters is that we know very little, if anything at all.
But the legal foundation for ongoing government surveillance in Israel was set long ago –
You are all aware of the wiretap law. It dates back to 1979. It permits investigating authorities, including the police and the Shin Bet, to get hold of the contents of our communications in real time – be it telephone calls or email messages.
And then there’s also the Telecom Data Law, nick-named the Big Brother Law. This one is 8 years old. It provides the police and various other investigative bodies with the authority to apply to the Magistrate Court – the court of lowest instance in Israel – to obtain a comprehensive order to receive the meta-data (but not the content) of our telecommunications.
Now there’s the Biometric Database Law, which is a matter of great public controversy. I will not cover this one here. There’s very little I can say about this terrible concept without making us all troubled and annoyed… But let me point out the fact that within a single week, the State Comptroller issued a report criticizing the project; a group of 74 distinguished computer scientists signed a petition, addressed to the Prime Minister, urging him to cancel the database due to its adverse impact on privacy and citizens’ security; and the commission of experts that officially advises the biometric database authority issued its own report admitting that collecting and storing fingerprints is ill-advised and that only facial biometric photos should be taken and stored.
But have you ever read other, relatively unknown, laws?
Section 13 of the Telecommunication Law provides that the Prime Minister may order Telecom Services providers to render services to the police, the Shin Bet and the Mossad and to have the providers install devices, take measures or adapt their facilities in order to assist the authorities in carrying out their roles and objectives. Such orders have been issued and they apply to every major Israeli telecom provider. What do these orders prescribe? What kind of information is shared and transferred by virtue of these orders? Who supervises the orders and who oversees how they are carried out?
Is there an Israeli Echelon? Similar to the SIGINT collection and analysis network, operated by 5 countries lead by the UK and the United States?
These questions remain unanswered. This should trouble us.
Have you examined the law governing Israel’s Security Agency?
This one provides that the Shabak is authorized to receive and collect information. It also provides that the Prime Minister may order Telecom providers to transfer certain information to the Shabak. The head of the Shabak is required to submit quarterly reports to the Prime Minister, the Attorney General and the Knesset. The report ought to detail how the Shabak exercises these powers. Needless to say, those reports were never made public.
But even more alarming is that the Prime Minister may order Telecom providers to retain telecom data. With the consent of the Minister of Justice, the Prime Minister may also set rules on how the data is to be stored and how it is to be deleted and destroyed. So there you have it: a sweeping Israeli data retention law, codified at sec. 11(d) of the Shabak Law.
Do we have any idea what is happening under these laws? No we don’t.