Regulations for Emergency Closure of Communication Facilities During Wartime
On October 16, 2023, we appealed (Hebrew) to the Attorney General , requesting guidance to dissuade the government from advancing emergency regulations granting the Minister of Communication authority to shut down communication facilities during wartime. These regulations were presented under the guise of ceasing broadcasts of the Al Jazeera network from Israel but, in essence, sought to empower the Minister to close any communication medium for ambiguous reasons of security compromise, public peace disturbance, public order appeal, or for enemy propaganda purposes. Such a closure would be immediate, without judicial order, without a hearing, and even without the approval of a senior legal authority.
Attorney Gil Gan-Mor, Director of Civil and Social Rights Unit, argued that in the age of the internet and social networks, controlling a broadcasting entity that disseminates news cannot prevent manipulations performed by the adversary to fulfill their propaganda goals. Therefore, it seems that the overt purpose to prevent security or public order compromise or misuse of communication content for enemy propaganda is a deceptive motive, and the real intent of the proposed regulations is to penalize specific media outlets for their broadcast content. Furthermore, Gan-Mor argued that these proposed regulations are precisely the kind of case that cannot justify the draconian use of emergency regulations.
"Even in wartime, and perhaps especially during war, moments in which critical decisions are made, the importance of press freedom and free flow of information (within regular limitations) is paramount. The government should not have the authority to control the content transmitted or received through draconian measures to shut down communication media under the pretext of compromising security, public order, or the fear of exploiting broadcasts for enemy propaganda. This constitutes a severe and non-immediate attack on the media, freedom of expression, and democratic space. The harm in such a situation outweighs the benefit, as there is no utility," the appeal stated.
Following public criticism, a revised version of the proposed regulations was introduced, stating that they would only apply to foreign broadcasting entities and not to Israeli broadcasters, and that measures would only be allowed due to security concerns. Nonetheless, from our perspective, even in the revised regulations, they are not proportionate. Among other things, they allow for the shutdown of communication tools for security reasons without specifying what those security reasons are. They also allow the suspension of foreign broadcasting channels in Israel on a case-by-case basis without a hearing, leading to a human infringement on freedom of expression and freedom of press. Furthermore, this is not a matter that aligns with emergency regulation in a state of emergency. Violation of the core of freedom of expression is a violation of human dignity and therefore cannot be enacted through emergency regulations but rather through regular legislation that meets the basic principles of fundamental law: human dignity and freedom and has been passed through regular legislative procedures. Therefore, on October 18, 2023, we once again appealed (Hebrew) to the Attorney General, requesting not to approve the regulations in their new wording.