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III. Privacy issues

Privacy case law

Alonial, et. al v. Ariel McDonald is a case involving copyright between McDonald's and well known basketball player Ariel McDonald. The Supreme Court of Israel affirmed that Israel's Privacy Law protects personal rights and interests, and not economic rights.1

In October 2004, the Jerusalem District Court rejected Yigal Amir's petition to stop the broadcast of a TV movie shown on the ninth anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, for which Amir was convicted.2 Amir had argued that film footage showing him in his jail cell dressed in his underwear violated his privacy rights

In June 2000, the Tel Aviv District Court held that the State could not order an Internet service provider (ISP) to collect subscriber e-mails to provide to the police, finding that the practice was the equivalent of an illegal wiretap. However, the Court determined3 that, when balanced against individual privacy rights, police could request e-mails already collected by the ISP from subscribers against whom an indictment is pending, and could use those e-mails upon indictment if a court found the collection to be justifiable – even if it was illegal at the time of seizure.4

Recent developments

A government committee conducting a two-year review of the legal aspects pertaining to protection of privacy in databases submitted its final report in February 2007.5 The Schoffman Committee consisted of government officials, academic institutes' experts in law and technology, members of the Public Council for the Protection of Privacy, a representative of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, a private legal practitioner and others. The report urged Israeli authorities to shift their emphasis from administrative provisions of the law (namely, database registration) to enforcement of essential sections relating to the protection of personal information, such as data security measures and collection and purpose limitations. Further, registration requirements should be limited to databases that are used for information trading or that store sensitive data such as genetic data. The committee also suggested that unlawful cross border data transfer should be deemed a criminal offence.

The Committee also proposed the enactment of a data breach law similar to California’s legislation.6 Currently, a breach of the Protection of Privacy Law does not entitle an individual to submit a class action. The Committee found that there is insufficient incentive for individuals to take legal action against database-related infringements of privacy, due to the number of injured parties and the small amount of damage each party incurs. This deters potential plaintiffs, thus becoming an obstacle to civil enforcement. If this recommendation is followed, the combination of class action suits and statutory damages may prove critical in cases of mass privacy infringements. As of July 2007, the Authority for Law, Technology and Information is drafting a bill based upon the Schoffman Committee's findings.7

Another bill, also proposed in July 2007, would require Internet Service Providers (ISP) to only allow registered Internet users over the age of 18 to browse sites with pornographic, violent, or gambling related content. The default setting for all ISPs would be to censor content, and adults wishing to view such materials would need to identify themselves. The original bill required biometric identification, but that condition was dropped so that the bill could be unanimously approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. The estimated cost of the new system is NIS 10 million (1.7 million EUR). It is unclear who will decide what should be censored, though it will likely be officials from Education, Justice and Communications Ministries, in addition to representatives from the National Council for the Child. The bill will be read by the Knesset Economics Committee, and if it is passed into law, officials estimate it would take seven to ten months to implement.8

Civil society advocacy work

In May 2004, the Supreme Court accepted a petition submitted by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) in 1998. In its petition, ACRI challenged the right of hundreds of clerks in various government authorities and commercial banks to have access to the Israeli Population Registry.9 Also, in May 2004, an internationally funded NGO, Peace Now, was under investigation for possible breaches of the espionage provisions of the Israeli Penal code for allegedly photographing and conducting surveillance of Israeli settlement areas and security breaches where Israeli civilians were later killed in attacks.10

In late May 2005, the year-old Israeli branch of the Movement for Freedom of Information, petitioned an administrative court in Tel Aviv to order the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) to reveal the "formula" by which the IDF's psychotechnical diagnosticians rank new recruits, thus determining their military service path, i.e., whether she or he will become an officer, serve in the Ordinance Corps, become a pilot or be assigned non-combative roles.11 Israeli NGOs, particularly environmental groups, have been turning to courts to obtain information when access requests have been denied by government offices.12