Israeli State Controller Micha Lindenstrauss released a report revealing a massive increase in the use of secret eavesdropping by police in criminal cases. From 2004 to 2008 the number of such wiretaps increases nearly 100% from 960 to 1,800. In 2008, police recorded 270,000 conversations (Hebrew). In the same year, judges rejected only 16 surveillance requests and only 51 were rejected during the entire five -year period. Walla notes that only 7% of the conversations recorded are relevant to investigations.
Ynet calls (Hebrew) Israeli judges “rubber stamps” for their overly cozy relationship with the police and prosecution. I’ve certainly seen that in their decisions regarding national security cases which I’ve covered here over the past few months. Not to mention the intelligence service’s slap-happy use of secret gag orders to suppress legal political activity by Israeli dissidents.
I should make clear that there are cases in which wiretaps are legitimate tools of law enforcement. For example, I have little sympathy for powerful politicians like Avigdor Lieberman or Haim Ramon, who complain that surveillance against them is pure political harrassment. People in high places should expect their behavior to be examined.
But Israel is a national security state, and abuses of the civil rights of the Palestinian minority and Palestinians living under Occupation seep into the texture of everyday life in Israel and the methods of policing. Notions of privacy are quite primitive in Israel. Ditto a sense of protections and civil rights for citizens, especially those suspected of a crime.
Among the excesses the report uncovers are requests to tap a phone line, rather than a specific individual, and applications which widen the scope of a wiretap by using the phrase “X and others;” or instead of naming a specific crime they add “and others” so that the police may go on a fishing expedition. Many conversations were captured which dealt with personal medical issues and other extraneous matters to which the police had no right to listen.
I should note that the Lindenstrauss report deals with criminal investigations and I presume excludes wiretaps for national security purposes. I would imagine the State would not want these studied or included in this report.
Didi Remez translated this article from Yediot which notes that the Shin Bet recorded 30,000 conversations of Ameer Makhoul in the course of its investigation. As I wrote above, this compares with 270,000 wiretapped conversations for the entire country in 2008!
With his trial scheduled to begin on July 13th, this article reveals that the prosecution hasn’t yet shared this material with the defense. I always thought that in a democracy a defendant was entitled to see the evidence against him before trial. I guess that concept is either alien to Israel or honored only for defendants who aren’t Palestinians:
Some 30,000 taped recordings were made of conversations that were wiretapped in the course of the investigation of Ameer Makhoul.
…It would seem unlikely that his trial is going to [begin] shortly since the prosecutor, Attorney Hadas Rosenberg-Sheinratt, said yesterday in court that the investigation included 30,000 telephone calls that needed to be sifted through before it could be determined which were relevant to the investigation.
“At issue is an exceptionally large quantity of material,” said Attorney Rosenberg-Sheinratt. “There aren’t many cases that involve thousands of documents. The material doesn’t come from a single source.”
Judges Yosef Elron, Moshe Gilad and Avraham Elyakim asked the prosecution to turn over with the utmost haste to the defense the missing material so as to allow for the trial to move forward.
While it is highly unlikely that Micha Lindenstrauss was thinking of protecting citizens like Ameer Makhoul with his criticism of Israeli police tactics, the latter target Palestinians and Jewish activists like Ezra Nawi, Mordechai Vanunu, Tali Fahima, Anat Kamm, and Uri Blau disproportionately, and subject them to even greater miscarriages than Israeli Jewish criminal suspects experience.