The Association for Civil Rights in Israel on Monday filed a petition to the Jerusalem District Court, in its capacity as an administrative court, to compel the Prime Minister’s Office to reveal the number of warrants issued by the prime minister to execute Shin Bet wiretaps over the past five years.
The information would be “including the number of people – and the number of the Israeli citizens and residents – covered by such warrants.”
The petition, filed under the Freedom of Information Law, sought to obtain the “guidelines that guide the prime minister in exercising this authority.” ACRI said that “security wiretaps,” used by Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), as opposed to criminal wiretaps used by police, are carried out under special more secretive procedures and said they are not subject to judicial review.
According to ACRI, Shin Bet requests authority for a wiretap from the prime minister, “who must report only to the attorney-general and a combined committee of the Constitution, Law and Justice and Foreign Affairs and Defense Committees, whose hearings are held behind closed doors.”
ACRI said it filed the petition after the PMO refused to provide it with information about the wiretapping in response to a freedom of information request.
The petition claimed that the PMO has “not given proper weight to the public’s right to information,” which ACRI said was a right “directly connected to the freedom of expression.”
In the response by the PMO to the ACRI request, it said that divulging the requested information would endanger state security and classified material.
The PMO further indicated that the safeguards of obligating the prime minister to report to the attorney-general and the special Knesset Committee were appropriate safeguards on abuse of Shin Bet wiretapping.
Also, the PMO said the fact that law stipulates that the Knesset committee meet in closed-door sessions shows the Knesset’s intent to keep the process secret to prevent exposure of classified information.
ACRI attorney Lila Margalit stated, “The Supreme Court has ruled in the past that wiretapping constitutes a serious invasion of privacy. It is deeply unsettling for the person being listened to, limiting his free will and impinging on his basic right to privacy.”
She added, “It is intolerable for such sensitive power to be exercised without the public having the minimum tools needed to discuss the fundamental questions that surround it.”