State Attorney’s unit operates outside the law to censor Facebook & YouTube posts; 2017 saw 500% increase in posts censored as a result of Cyber Unit’s action.
Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel continues to demand that Israel’s state attorney’s office shutter its “Cyber Unit” which – in collaboration with major social media outlets such as Facebook and YouTube – is illegally censoring user content.
Adalah sent an initial letter on 2 August 2017 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.
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Israel’s dramatic increase in online censorship in 2017, without any legal authorization and in violation of a series of basic principles in constitutional and administrative law, raises the real concern of a potential spillover of state censorship of protected publications.
ADALAH DEMANDS THAT ISRAEL’S CYBER UNIT:
Immediately cease submitting requests for the removal of social media content, since doing so violates fundamental principles of constitutional and administrative law;
Immediately transmit for our review a copy of the work procedure according to which the Cyber Unit submits requests for removal of content based on the public’s right to know.
WHAT IS THE CYBER UNIT?
The Cyber Unit began operation during the second half of 2015 and is responsible for “dealing with cyberspace enforcement challenges” via censorship of social media posts. This censorship – conducted in collaboration and coordination with social media outlets, including U.S.-based giants Facebook and YouTube – entails the removal of content added by users, restriction of access to certain websites, and outright blocking of users’ access to these sites.
The number of Cyber Unit requests to remove content skyrocketed in 2017.
Data provided by the unit revealed that in 2016 it submitted 2,241 content removal requests; of these, 1,554 were removed, and 162 were partially removed. In 2017, however, the Cyber Unit submitted 12,351 content removal requests – an increase of more than 500% percent; 85% of the requests ultimately led to the full removal of the concerned posts and another three percent led to partial removal.
Cyber Unit clerks and administrative officials decide for themselves, within the framework of an alternative enforcement system, if a certain instance of expression “is incitement to violence and terror, and support of a terror organization” or is a “forbidden publication towards public servants in the framework of their jobs.” However, Israel’s state attorney is usurping authority – reserved for the judicial branch – illegally and without any legal authorization. The Cyber Unit cannot impose sanctions based solely on suspicion.