Warm regards. We hope you are keeping safe and healthy through these challenging times.
In early August 2020, the Israeli Supreme Court (SCT) held a hearing on our “Cyber Unit” case filed by Adalah and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). Following the hearing, the SCT issued an “order to show cause” – meaning that it found a strong legal basis for the case – and mandated state authorities to explain under which legal authority the state operates its “Cyber Unit”, which conducts censorship of online speech.
The Israeli Cyber Unit, which is part of the State Attorney’s Office, flags and submits content removal requests– without any formal legal proceedings– to social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google, and asks these platforms to “voluntarily” remove user-generated content according to the platforms’ own terms of service.
Adalah and ACRI filed the petition in November 2019 demanding to put an end to Israeli censorship of freedom of expression on social media platforms. The case followed two years of complaints by Adalah that the Israeli Cyber Unit has been unlawfully issuing content removal requests to major social media providers.
Israeli authorities have long attempted to silence Palestinian free speech online, cracking down on Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians living under Occupation in the OPT for publishing content critical of the state’s policies. The right for free speech on the internet has become even more crucial since the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis in March 2020. Palestinian and Israeli activists alike have utilized the internet as a main platform for voicing their dissent with the government’s discriminatory practices.
During the course of litigating the petition, state authorities have failed to respond to the Court’s repeated inquiries regarding the legal authority by which the Cyber Unit acts, emphasizing that the social networks themselves, rather than the State, are the bodies that actually remove user content from their platforms. In fact and ironically, the state is arguing before the Court that there is “no state action” in this case!
In this interim ruling in August, the Supreme Court also ordered the state to present similar mechanisms of internet referral units used in other countries, and to clarify the mechanisms’ respective legal authorities.
Censorship of internet-based activism not only deprives activists from practicing their right to express their views, but also violates the right of other users to access to the censored content.
Adalah will continue, via legal interventions, to challenge Israel’s use of online suppressive means in order to ensure Palestinians’ freedom of speech.
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