Israel is to attempt, again, to pass a bill that authorizes police officers to issue warrants to Internet service providers to block or restrict access to specific websites involved either in gambling, child pornography or copyright infringement. The bill itself proposes that such administrative procedures shall be clandestine and that court decisions shall be made ex-parte, where some of the court’s ruling will not be even disclosed to the owner of the website, and the court may hear and use inadmissible evidence.
In my opinion, one of the saddest things in a democracy is that powers with authority can change the rules after the game commenced. This is story with blocking of gambling sites, an experiment which began around 2010.
Fortunately, after a lot of hard work by the Israeli Internet Society, The District Court of Tel-Aviv quashed the block and ruled that the police had no authority to order Internet service providers to block access to certain sites or IP addresses (decision now on appeal, see the Hebrew original ruling at AA 45606-10-10 ISOC N. Shachar Ayalon).
However, Israel is famous for presenting bills that bypass constitutional rulings, and now wants to reassert this authority, without limitation, by presenting a new bill: The Bill for Restricting Uses for Preventing Crimes (Amendment – Restriction of Access to a Website and various revisions),2012 , (Google Translation).
You can read a bit more about the bill at Oded Yaron’s article at Haaretz.com (behind a paywall). In general, the bill’s purpose is to circumvent the relevant court ruling and allow the police to block websites. In the district court ruling, the police’s authority to shut down gambling houses cannot apply to websites. However, the bill’s current wishes seem to be broader:
Had a certified police officer reasonable grounds for suspecting that the website is used to commit an offense specified in the Second Schedule [gambling, child pornography or copyright infringement - jk], and that there are reasonable grounds for concern that the website will continue to be used for committing a crime unless access is restricted, he may issue a warrant for Internet Service Providers to limit the access to that Web site; a warrant under this section may be issued even if the website also contains activity which is considered legal [or legitimate - jk] provided that the illegitimate activity is the main purpose of the website.
Now, as befits any modern legislation, justice it made but us not seen. Article 3 of the bill discusses execution of additional warrants, where everything shall be made ex-parte:
“material relating to the request to extend the validity of an administrative restriction or information based on which such request and any other material provided subject of the application process will be made to the judge only; material will be marked and returned to the police officer or authorized claimant (in this section the applicant) after examining “
But it’s not just that material will be ex-parte; in some cases, the ruling itself may be withheld from the appellant. “The court shall notify the owner or occupier and the police officer on its decisionunder this section, and it may determine that the decision, or parts of it, shall be confidential“.
This means Israeli that citizens may find themselves in a situation where they are subject to a warrant which is confidential. In such case, They will not be able to challenge such an order, because the grounds for the decision will unlisted . Sounds interesting? Well, I remind you that when we discussed that Communication Metadata Law, which allows police to receive GPS data on phone and Internet subscribers and records of their phone calls, everything was made in confidential decisions (with no further judicial review on them). Therefore, do not know how the law is implemented, how these requests really served illegally, and how judicial review works.
The bill itself is absurd if you understand the Internet: everybody knows that no matter what order blocking a given Web site, its validity is about as much as an order of Police fires in summer temperature does not exceed 25 degrees Celsius (or if you’re in the US, that it won’t snow on Christmas). I mean, okay, ISPs will restrict users from browsing, but that’s not actually something that works (proxy servers et all).
But of course there’s the issue of the slippery slope. The original act, which is to be amended by the bill, gave a judge the authority to issue a warrant under careful review; however, the bill conveys this authority to a police officers.
What about additional uses? Well, in order to pass the bill, the police began with abhorrent offenses considered: child pornography and gambling. Clearly, no one will oppose the authority to block such websites if he’s not a pedophile or a gambler. Well, not really. That’s why the phrase “Second Schedule” is used to described to offenses that are subject to this authority, in fact the bill asserts a short list of offenses, where the minister of justice can always add additional offenses. Once the bill is passed, no one can be certain that no additional offenses will enter there.
The real danger here is practice: in the same week where we discovered that the military police apparently investigated a blogger which was exposed using the metadata act without respecting his journalistic immunity and confidentiality of sources, and on the same week as the non-democratic nations want to rule the internet through the ITU convention, Israel decides to publish this bill. And why? because Israel deems it ok to gamble all your money is the state lottery, but not right when you give money to foreign websites.