ACRI Petitions to HCJ: General Security Service Tracking Program - Illegal
During the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was revealed that the General Security Services (GSS) maintains a database based on sweeping and continuous metadata collection of all citizens and residents, which is open to search and analysis by GSS personnel without a court ordered warrant. Yesterday, ACRI petitioned the High Court of Justice: the database is a formidable mass surveillance system unique among democracies.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel petitioned yesterday morning (31.5.22) to the HCJ demanding that section 11 of the GSS Law be repealed or that a series of amendments be made that would limit the powers it authorizes. According to ACRI’s examination of the law, the vague wording of section 11 has allowed for the development of a powerful, secret surveillance program used against the citizens and residents of the State, a method that has been exposed since the contact-tracing used during the COVID-19 pandemic. This program drastically violates the right to privacy and liberties of civilians.
The surveillance program includes the continuous sweeping collection of metadata of all civilians in the country from communications companies, then stores in the GSS database. Once the information is stored, GSS employees can search and process personal information, sans a court order, in secret, and without supervision. This data can include sensitive information such as location, relationships, and internet surfing data. The sheer power of this tool bedazzled the government during the COVID-19 pandemic as it was used, consequently, to track the locations of civilians and their contacts.
ACRI notes a number of serious flaws in the surveillance program: the law is vague and lacks an explicit authorization for the sweeping collection of metadata and its storage in the database; extensive use of secret regulations approved by the Prime Minister without Knesset regulation; authorization of GSS employees to search the database without a court order; lack of explicit mechanism for professional confidentiality, especially concerning journalists; extensive and broad use of database, such as vetting candidates for public positions, rather than strictly for security reasons; the total lack of oversight of the usage of and search ability in the database. ACRI believes each and every one of these flaws on their own, and certainly in tandem, warrants the repeal of this unprecedented surveillance program in its current form.
The petition, filed by ACRI Adv. Gil Gan-Mor, argues that when the program began in 2002, few understood the significance of creating such a database, but that with the technological era in which we now live in which we leave digital traces at every turn, the sweeping collection of metadata gives the GSS unprecedented power to surveil civilians. Using this program, the GSS is able to draw personal, intimate profiles, to identify sexual orientations, social relationships, political opinions, participation in protests, and even identify journalistic sources — all with relative ease. ACRI emphasizes that the harm of this surveillance program is no less than that of wiretapping — and in some ways, even more so.
Adv. Gil Gan-Mor: “The government's decision to use the GSS database during the COVID-10 period for an entirely civilian purpose has revealed the powerful surveillance program, which has remained in the dark for many years. The program is used on all civilians in the country, and is extremely unusual in relation to other democracies, as it is based on a mechanism of collecting sweeping and continuous information about all citizens. The violation of the privacy and liberties of civilians is significant. The program lacks minimal checks and balances. What’s more, if the program was originally intended to counter terrorism, we identify a clear trend of extending its use to other areas, especially following the pandemic, in a way that demonstrates the danger of the slippery slope that we have been warning against.”
For further information (Hebrew)