To tackle online crime, Israel approves web censorship law
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To tackle online crime, Israel approves web censorship law

Courts may now order providers to block terror group websites, online illegal gambling, prostitution services, hard drug sales

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

A screen shot taken of Hamas's official website on August 21, 2016. The graphic shows the al Aqsa Mosque on fire due to a 1969 arson attack.  The photo reads: "Our Aqsa, we shall not forget." (Courtesy: Hamas website.)
A screen shot taken of Hamas's official website on August 21, 2016. The graphic shows the al Aqsa Mosque on fire due to a 1969 arson attack. The photo reads: "Our Aqsa, we shall not forget." (Courtesy: Hamas website.)

The Knesset on Monday approved a law allowing the court-ordered blocking or removal of internet sites promoting criminal or terror activity, marking the first introduction of laws restricting the internet in Israel.

“We are closing an enforcement gap of many years during which the existing law was disconnected from the migration of crime to the internet,” said Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, whose office oversees the Israel Police. “The new law will give the police the necessary tools to fight criminals, felons, and inciters who have moved their activities online.”

The law targets illegal gambling websites, prostitution and child pornography advertisements, online dealing of hard drugs and synthetic cannabinoids and the websites of terror groups.

Clearing the Knesset plenum in its second and third reading with 63 lawmakers in favor and 10 opposed, the law stipulates that a district court judge who has received special permission by the court president may issue an order to internet providers to block websites linked to criminal activity.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan attends a meeting at the Knesset, Jerusalem, May 17, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan attends a meeting at the Knesset, Jerusalem, May 17, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An internet provider that does not comply with the court order will be imprisoned for two years, the law says.

The court order may only be issued if it is essential to halting the criminal activity taking place online; or “essential to prevent the exposure of the Israeli user to an activity that, would it be done in Israel, would be a crime, and the website’s activity has some connection to Israel”; or if the website belongs to a terror organization.

In certain cases, if the owner of the website is Israel-based, the court may order the provider to seek the website’s removal, rather than merely restricting access, it said.

The courts may also order search engines to remove the websites from their search results and may rely on classified government testimony to make their decision. All affected parties must be present in court, the law said, unless they were summoned and failed to appear.

Due to warnings from rights groups that the law poses a slippery slope toward additional censorship, the final version of the legislation dictates that rights groups may appeal the decisions. It said the Justice Ministry must report to the Knesset’s Justice, Law and Constitution Committee once a year the number of requests for court orders to restrict internet content and for what crimes.

In addition to the law, lawmakers over the past year have been seeking — so far unsuccessfully — to advance legislation for court-mandated removal of Facebook content calling for violence against Israelis, as well as a law that would restrict access to online pornography.

The Knesset plenum on Monday also approved a bill in its first reading that would allow police to block cellphone users from their service providers for 30-day periods if there is a “reasonable basis to assume” the device is being used for criminal activity such as drug-dealing or prostitution. The bill was approved with 27 MKs in favor, with none opposed, and requires two more readings to become law.

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