ACRI Appeals Against GSS Database
ACRI appealed to the Attorney General, stating that the General Security Services' (also known as the GSS or Shin Bet) database and its use pose serious constitutional harms – continued usage must be conditional on significant amendments, safeguards, and external supervision.
Section 11 of the GSS law was passed in 2002, under the radar and without public debate, and gives the GSS extraordinary capabilities regarding signal intelligence. It also allows the Prime Minister to construct a massive database and to obligate communications companies to transfer communication data regularly. The data that is stored is vaguely defined as “including communication data, excluding conversational content.”
In the past year, due to the use of the GSS database for contact tracing during COVID-19, we were exposed to the power of this database, and many details previously kept secret were revealed for the first time about the database.
As we have learned, the communication data of all civilians is stored in the GSS database on a regular basis, allowing the GSS to quickly locate the locations of each person, today and in the past, as well as the contacts made with others. This is a powerful mass surveillance tool, and it is likely exceptional in relation to other democracies. It severely violates the right to privacy and other human rights.
Analysis of this database reveals a long list of constitutional defects related to the manner of its creation, the processing of information, and its supervision. As such, on 7.6.21, ACRI appealed to the Attorney General demanding a correction of these violations, including a request to cease using the database as it stands, and that aspects of its future usage must be determined by the law, and not in secret ordinances. The issues that must be decided by the members of the Knesset include the determination of what information can be transferred, the timeframe for which it will be stored in the database, and the purpose for storing such information. Further, the term “information” must be precisely defined.
ACRI also argued that the government should be instructed that the use of the database is prohibited for any purpose that is not within the GSS security roles, unless a decision is made to do so in an explicit and proportionate designated law.
A significant part of the letter deals with the way in which permission to search the database is obtained, and the lacking of external, independent supervision of the GSS database and the processing of information from it.
According to Adv. Gil Gan-Mor from the Association for Civil Rights: "In the past year, we have waved quite a few red flags. The use of the GSS database for the purpose of COVID-19 surveillance revealed the existence of a secret, powerful and invasive mass surveillance project, in which the civilians of this country are monitored at all times. This led us to investigate further, and we found many flaws in the way the Prime Minister was authorized to create the database, and in the powers of the head of GSS to order a search of the database, almost unsupervised. These flaws are also serious on a comparative level, compared to other democracies. Just recently, the European Court of Human Rights disqualified parts of British surveillance programs, although they are enshrined in a much clearer and more detailed way in British law than the GSS database.
We are of course also aware of the security needs, but such a powerful and secretive database that allows for the surveilling of innocent civilians must come with clear limitations in the law, with significant safeguards against abuse, and under independent external supervision. All of these things are almost non-existent in relation to the GSS database. Our demands, some of which are based on recommendations included in the book by Eli Bachar, who was the GSS legal advisor, were intended to balance security needs with basic human rights, and especially the right to privacy, which is essential for the existence of a stable democracy."