Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, has called on Israel to shut down its so-called Cyber Unit, which collaborates with social media platforms to censor content, saying the unit has “no legal authority.”
The Israeli government launched the unit in the second half of 2015, when Israeli authorities alleged that a wave of unrest that erupted that fall was encouraged largely by online “incitement.” The crackdown has seen hundreds of Palestinians detained, while social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have complied with hundreds of requests by the Israeli state to censor content.
According to Adalah, the Cyber Unit says it is responsible for “dealing with cyberspace enforcement challenges” via censorship of social media posts and entails the removal of content added by users, restriction of access to certain websites, and outright blocking of users’ access to these sites.
Facebook caves in 2 Israeli censorship & bully boy tactics. A whopping 95% of alleged anti Israel posts removed. https://t.co/wLhgBPsOmz
— Susi Snowflake (@palestininianpr) September 16, 2017
Adalah said it sent a letter to Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, State Attorney Shai Nitzan, and Cyber Unit director Haim Vismonsky, “demanding that they immediately cease the illegal operations of the state attorney’s Cyber Unit,” arguing that much of the censorship has been conducted without any basis in Israeli law.
“Nothing in the law allows state authorities to censor content based solely on an administrative determination… that the content amounts to a criminal offense. Likewise, there is no explicit directive in (Israeli) law authorizing the removal of content determined to amount to a criminal offense, even by a court,” Adalah Attorney Fady Khoury wrote.
Adalah cited statistics released by the Cyber Unit in its end-of-year 2016 report, that said the Israeli agency handled 2,241 cases of online content that were ostensibly posted in violation of the law; 1,554 of these were removed as a result of the unit’s operations.
“While private bodies such as social media corporations are not subject to Israeli public law and therefore may lawfully choose to remove content in accordance with their terms of service, state agents – such as the Cyber Unit – are indeed subject to Israeli law and much of their censorship activities are therefore illegal,” Adalah emphasized.
— Middle East Monitor (@MiddleEastMnt) September 10, 2017
Khoury also stressed that the Cyber Unit operations are a clear violation of free speech, explaining that the Israeli state attorney’s practice of criminalizing certain expression on social media is tantamount to “an unproven suspicion.”
“The Cyber Unit cannot impose sanctions based solely on this suspicion, let alone severe sanctions in the form of censorship. The authorities are not allowed to demand the removal of speech that has not yet been proven to be criminal, even if it is unpleasant to their ears,” the Adalah attorney said in the report.
(Ma’an, PC, Social Media)