Israeli Lawmakers Pass Tough Internet Censorship Law

New legislation approved by the Knesset targets online gambling, child pornography, drug and terror group websites

On Monday the Israeli Knesset approved tough internet censorship measures including the court-ordered website blocking by ISPs of websites deemed to promote or offer online gambling, prostitution and child pornography, online dealing of hard drugs and synthetic cannabinoids and the websites of terror groups.

The legislation includes provisions for the removal of offending websites and mark the first introduction of internet-restrictive laws in Israel, according to the Times of Israel newspaper.

Explaining the need for such a move, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said:

“We are closing an enforcement gap of many years during which the existing law was disconnected from the migration of crime to the internet. The new law will give the police the necessary tools to fight criminals, felons, and inciters who have moved their activities online.”

The law, which passed on a third reading vote of 63 vs. 10, empowers district judges on approval by the court president to issue orders to internet providers to block websites linked to criminal activity. Such providers who fail to comply can be imprisoned for up to two years.

The legislation specifies that court orders 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 organisation.

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 restrict access. In all cases, parties impacted by the court order must be present in the court, unless they have failed to respond to a summons.

There is also provision for court orders on search engines targeting illegal websites for removal from search results, the Times of Israel notes.

Pressure from anti-censorship groups has influenced the final version of the law, which permits civil rights and other action groups to appeal decisions made by the courts.

In addition, the Justice Ministry must report to the Knesset’s Justice, Law and Constitution Committee once a year on the number of requests for court orders to restrict internet content and for what crimes.

The Times of Israel notes that some lawmakers have been unsuccessfully attempting to introduce laws giving the courts power to order the removal of inappropriate social media content such as is found on Facebook, defining such content as that which calls for violence against Israelis

The newspaper reports that the Knesset has also passed the first reading of a new bill that empowers police to lock-out cell phone users from their service for up to 30 days if there are reasonable grounds to assume the device is being used for criminal activity. The bill must undergo two more readings.