Israel’s general security service Shin Bet has admitted to spying on journalists through a database collected from mobile phone companies. He has also used this database in criminal incident investigations, not just in security investigations. This came in the prosecution’s response to a petition submitted by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) to the High Court.
Mobile phone data is stored in a database. The information it contains includes where a reporter has been, what conversations they have had, how long they lasted, and other information. Through the petition, ACRI called for the removal of a clause in the law regulating Shin Bet operations that requires mobile phone companies in Israel to provide the agency with information regarding every call or message made. on the phone.
The Shin Bet law was enacted in 2002, saying it regulates its activities, but these activities are mostly secret and not subject to public scrutiny, according to Ha’aretz the newspaper reports Friday. By law, the use of such information by the Shin Bet is permitted after approval by the head of the Shin Bet, who must notify the prime minister and the attorney general of the spy operations through the cell phone database once every three months and inform the Shin Bet. committee to the Knesset once a year.
The ACRI petition stated that there are constitutional flaws in the aforementioned clause due to the lack of clarity regarding the targeting of privacy and that the power this clause gives the Shin Bet goes beyond this. which is required for the purposes of state security.
The petition pointed out that the Shin Bet law lacks a clear mechanism to protect those who demand professional secrecy, especially journalists, because the decisions of the head of the Shin Bet and the prime minister under this clause are not subject to judicial review and because there are no surveillance systems in Shin Bet law.
The High Court considered the motion by a three-judge panel on October 25 and decided at the end of the session that the prosecution would notify the court within 90 days of the submission of a memorandum seeking to amend the law of the Shin Bet. It should be published soon so that the public can give their opinion. Then the court will decide whether to continue examining the application.
On October 20, the Shin Bet and the government asked the High Court, through the prosecution, to dismiss the petition. In its response, the prosecution claimed that the Mobile Communications Database is: “Collection of communications data from telecommunications companies to gather intelligence is vital to the organization’s operations and has already provided assistance essential to thwarting terrorist attacks and saving lives.”
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“The service thwarts hundreds of attacks a year, and the data collected contributes significantly to that. Limiting the authority of the agency will seriously harm security and the ability of the agency to fulfill its role,” said he added.
The prosecution said the Shin Bet does not use cellphone data against people with professional immunity, such as Knesset members, ministers, deputy ministers, journalists, lawyers, psychiatrists and religious leaders – except in cases that require it, claiming that they are linked to state security.
The prosecution pointed out that the database has been used five or six times a year, on average, for the past ten years and that journalists were in the minority in these cases.
Gil Gan-Mor, lawyer and head of the civil rights division at ACRI, said Ha’aretz: “Even if it’s two journalists per year followed through this database, that amounts to 20 over the last decade and 40 over the life of the database.”
He added: “Investigating cell phone communications can reveal with terrifying ease the particular sources of information that have embarrassed the government, even if it has been published previously and even if the reporter and source have not not spoken on the phone and only met while carrying their phones”.