The answer is very little. The various branches of the government – the Tax Authority, National Insurance Institute, the police, the Defense Ministry, the health system, and many others – hold large amounts of data about every single Israeli citizen. From time to time, an employee of one of these officers will take a surreptitious look at some of these personal files. In most cases, they are not caught, and, on the rare occasion when they are, the punishment is remarkably lenient. Officials from the Privacy Protection Authority say that there’s nothing they can do to counter the phenomenon.

The answer is very little. The various branches of the government – the Tax Authority, National Insurance Institute, the police, the Defense Ministry, the health system, and many others – hold large amounts of data about every single Israeli citizen. From time to time, an employee of one of these officers will take a surreptitious look at some of these personal files. In most cases, they are not caught, and, on the rare occasion when they are, the punishment is remarkably lenient. Officials from the Privacy Protection Authority say that there’s nothing they can do to counter the phenomenon.

What happens when a worker in a government office peeps at the personal files of his daughter’s friends in the Scouts?

The answer is very little. The various branches of the government – the Tax Authority, National Insurance Institute, the police, the Defense Ministry, the health system, and many others – hold large amounts of data about every single Israeli citizen. From time to time, an employee of one of these officers will take a surreptitious look at some of these personal files. In most cases, they are not caught, and, on the rare occasion when they are, the punishment is remarkably lenient. Officials from the Privacy Protection Authority say that there’s nothing they can do to counter the phenomenon.

Daniel Dolev

Illustration: Moran Barak

November 16, 2021

Summary

A Shomrim investigation has found that, over the past five years, 41 civil servants have been convicted of unauthorized access to government databases. Of them, 32 were employed by the Israel Tax Authority. In most cases, the offenders were reprimanded and, in some cases, were docked one month’s salary; some were demoted. Does this figure accurately reflect the true extent of the problem? It is safe to assume that it does not. The various government offices which have databases containing personal information on citizens, it seems, are not really on the lookout for employees prying into their files – so it’s little surprise that they don’t find them. A closer examination, however, reveals that this is far from a rare occurrence. And when someone is caught, the punishment meted out is not exactly a deterrence.

In most cases, an unauthorized search of a government database is aimed at someone the curious civil servant knows well. For example, a civil servant with a sensitive job at the Agriculture Ministry’s enforcement division was allowed access, as part of his role, to the Interior Ministry’s databases. He looked at the personal records of family members and colleagues, including his superiors. Among the information he looked at was the type of car they owned and when they traveled abroad. Another employee of the same division was convicted of accessing the personal information of police officers; he even took a peep at the personal file of the investigator from the disciplinary division of the Civil Service Commission who was looking into an alleged previous offense.

The body responsible for safeguarding the Israeli government’s databases is the Privacy Protection Authority, which is part of the Justice Ministry. The PPA supervises the work of private and public organizations, to ensure that they abide by the legal guidelines when it comes to safeguarding their databases. However, the policy of the PPA is to focus exclusively on more serious incidents, which could have national ramifications or those which would justify prosecuting the offender in criminal proceedings.

This is a summary of shomrim's story published in Hebrew.
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