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  • ACRI

The Shin Bet Law Amendment: All the Lives of the Citizens will be Exposed to the Government

On December 11, 2023, the comprehensive amendment to the Shin Bet Law was published. This amendment marks the first modification to the law that passed in the Knesset 21 years ago. The amendment is a response, among other things, to two petitions by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel regarding the Shin Bet's unauthorized use of surveillance and the mishandling of the Communication Database ("HaKlil") during the COVID-19 pandemic. Both petitions claimed that the Shin Bet operates surveillance and collects communication data without proper authorization. In response to the petition regarding the Shin Bet's database, the Shin Bet committed to advancing legislation that addresses some of the concerns raised in the petition.

Attorney Gil Gan-Mor, director of the Civil and Social Rights Unit, who filed the petitions, argues that the update and amendment to the Shin Bet Law "should be causing the public to lose sleep over them" moreover causing deep fer within them He states, "It seems that the amendment is primarily intended to grant the Shin Bet more and more powers and sophisticated surveillance tools, and it does not adequately protect the rights of citizens nor include sufficient monitoring mechanisms or transparency." Gan-Mor emphasizes that the Shin Bet is an internal security organization, and its main activity is directed towards the country's citizens. It plays a crucial role in preventing harm to national security and defending against threats to democratic law enforcement institutions. However, given the powerful surveillance tools at its disposal, if directed against citizens or used for broader purposes, they could infringe on human rights and democratic principles. He cautions against the potential misuse of these tools for surveillance of citizens, especially during times when democratic institutions are under threat.

The comprehensive amendment includes several concerning aspects:

  1. Surveillance Tools: The amendment proposes granting the Shin Bet authority to conduct covert searches on mobile phones using surveillance tools like Pegasus, without the need for a judicial order but only with the approval of the Prime Minister or the head of the Shin Bet. Only covert searches on the computers of professionals protected by confidentiality (lawyers, doctors, psychologists, clergy, and journalists) would require a judicial order. This creates an imbalance in protecting journalists from covert phone searches. Allowing the Shin Bet access to phones or computers without external oversight is a gateway to citizen surveillance and could be exploited for the surveillance of opposition figures, journalists, and members of the opposition.

  2. Shin Bet's Communication Database: During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Shin Bet's database was exposed, allowing access to all communication data of the country's citizens, revealing highly sensitive information such as locations, close contacts, and even browsing data. There were numerous criticisms against this database. The amendment does not address most of the problems with the database, lacking sufficient monitoring mechanisms. While the information will be deleted after 5 years, intelligence produced from the data will not be erased, enabling the Shin Bet to continue building accurate intelligence profiles on citizens.

  3. Technological Surveillance: The amendment ignores the global trend in democratic countries to increase external oversight of security organizations operating advanced surveillance systems. It maintains the same perspective from 20 years ago, allowing the Shin Bet to operate without external oversight and with the political approval of the Prime Minister. This is problematic in an era where there is a political appointment of key positions and a weakening of legal advisers, coupled with powerful surveillance technologies. In this context, the Shin Bet continues to operate without sufficient transparency or effective external oversight.

The amendment also includes positive elements such as prohibiting the Shin Bet from receiving databases containing sensitive information such as political opinions or sexual preferences, restricting the Shin Bet's ability to transfer databases to other entities, and requiring a reduction in privacy infringement when exercising its powers.

The amendment does not address scattered issues like investigations and interrogations, nor does it cover technological aspects such as biometric tracking systems or artificial intelligence.


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