Imagine if your social security card was posted online. Now, imagine every citizen’s social security number, address, and phone number were posted online. This also occurs only a few weeks before your allegedly corrupted Prime Minister is about to run for election for the third time in a year. This, among an overwhelmingly heavy amount other issues, are what Israeli voters are dealing with at the moment. Recently in Israel, as of February 9, 2020, there has been a security breach on the nation’s voting app, Elector. This security failure exposed the password and usernames of party members and site administrators. Also revealed were the address, phone number, full name, gender, and identity card numbers of every eligible voter in the country. First-hand witnesses and cyber techs reported the information was easily accessible and didn’t require any technical skills to reach it. What the breach can’t show is everyone who accessed it and everyone who viewed and downloaded information.
It is unclear how and exactly when the security lapse occurred. Still, but the developers of the app, Feed-b, reported it simply as a “one-off incident that was immediately dealt with.”The Justice Ministry’s PPA, the Israeli Privacy Protection Authority, announced they were looking into the matter.The lax approach these officials had to the breach have been worrisome. An open investigation on the security exposure of six and a half million people has yet to have been announced.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with his Likud party, use this app to communicate with voters- it is also used on voting day. This breach happened only a few weeks before the critical election day on March 2. Likud provided Elector the information. On the app’s website, as the anonymous tipster who notified a software programmer (who then revealed the leak publicly) stated, is where the lapse occurred. On the site, anyone could view this information with minimal technological skills. How does it work? The Israeli government provides the voter registry to political parties, but parties are supposed to protect this information. It is not clear on who violated Israel’s privacy law- either Likud or Elector Software. Nevertheless, the PPA disclosed that the responsibility of keeping such information safe belongs to each party, not the government.
Notwithstanding, suspicions are high. Netanyahu is about to undergo his third general election in less than a year and is facing bribery, fraud, and breach of trust charges. The repetitive elections are due to the last two having “inconclusive” results. These few factors alone pose a real threat to Israel’s democracy. The people have gone through a year-long struggle to have a new Prime Minister, the current Prime Minister is facing corruption charges, the prosecutor of this indictment is being accused by the PM for subverting the rule of law, and all of their personal information has been leaked to whom and how many individuals, we still do not know.
With identity theft and electoral manipulation being the possible outcomes of this security breach, it poses broader questions about the current sociopolitical atmosphere in Israel. The last time a security breach and leak like this happened was in 2006 when an Interior Ministry employee stole the population registry and published it illegally.
This breach is only a short time after the proposal and announcement of Trump’s Deal of the Century. And quite a few groups are anti-deal (which is more than justified), anti-Trump, and anti-Netanyahu. Most Israelis, however, are in agreement with the major parts of the deal, including the annexation of the Jordan Valley and West Bank settlements and recognizing Israel as the Jewish with control over all of Jerusalem. The people would like these changes to commence immediately, but, of course, the plan is to begin the process afterthe elections.
This is not a conspiracy post, but the social structure (see ethnic polarization) and political coalitions do shape political competition and conflict. In this type of threat to democracy is hard to tell when the line is being crossed. In “Unwelcome Change: Democratic Backsliding”, Lust et al define the term democratic backsliding as the deterioration of the quality of democracy, undermining the democratic institutions from within, and the erosion in elements such as rights, elections, and accountability. Israel has already experienced ethnic polarization, unconstrained political leaders, and, with this security breach, holes in accountability and elections!
There is serious uncertainty in the future of Israel- the culprits and consequences of this breach, the election, and this deal. The way each of these events connect could provide evidence or allusions of the mechanisms of stealth authoritarianismthrough the increase of cost in unseating an incumbent and eroding accountability. The stability of this regime is walking a fine line.
Selina, I thought this was a great summary of a really interesting part of the often confusing world of Israeli politics. So many parties and so many different interests are stake, and because of the distinctive system they have, they just can’t compromise on much of anything. Now that the third election has taken place, many think Netanyahu will now use the COVID crisis to maintain his hold on power. Obviously a populist to his core, do you think Netanyahu will be successful in moving Israel further and further away from a functioning democracy?
I definitely think he is capable of that. Since his coming to power, Israel has seen a higher trend of symptoms and precursors of erosion. I don’t think Israel can move towards recovery with him in power. His position itself is an example of democratic backsliding- voter intimidation, vertical corruption, polarization, harmful ethnic ideology, plus who knows what else are the only reasons he is in office. I also think he will use covid to stay. After the failures of this past election, he has agreed to step down next year-but that just sounds like he just gave himself another year to think of new schemes and excuses. After studying their system and the Knesset, it is no wonder their system sucks.