The Israeli military is spying on the country’s social media users and zeroing in on anyone who expresses political dissent, according to a report Wednesday.
Military snoops may be flagging social media users as potential terrorists for using key words such as “boycott” or the Arabic name for Jerusalem “Al-Quds,” according to Israeli magazine +972. The revelations were made after the magazine conducted an investigation that found the military had commissioned private companies to scour social media networks for Israelis expressing political dissent online.
According to a former employee of one contractor, the companies “work with the technology branch of Israeli intelligence … they provide information in Arabic on protests or conversations that include trigger words.”
“The same goes for Hebrew, of course, including information on geographical location of the users,” the source stated.
According to the magazine, “These companies are not tracking individuals suspected of any crimes, but rather in the widespread gathering of all public data available in Israel.”
The Israeli military has even found ways to circumvent privacy settings, such as those offered by Facebook.
“According to the employee, several of the monitoring companies create fictitious profiles as a tracking technique. These profiles connect with specific individuals that the system wants to monitor. This is how the companies ‘circumvent’ privacy mechanisms,” +972 reported.
Along with fake social media accounts, the military has also reportedly pursued key logging software aimed at targeting smartphones and tablets. Key loggers record everything a user types, and regularly used by cyber criminals to obtain private information from victims such as passwords and bank account numbers.
According to +972, at least five private firms were approached by the military, though only one has actually its work with military intelligence to monitor Israelis. A representative of tech firm Bazila told +972 the military is primarily interested in monitoring Israelis linked to the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. Modeled on the South African anti-apartheid boycott, BDS advocates say the movement aims to apply commercial pressure to Israel until it cleans up its human rights record.
Critics of Israel, including BDS activists, aren’t only being targeted within Israel. Since 2011, the military has maintained a unit tasked with monitoring Israeli’s political critics abroad. Military intelligence has also reportedly worked in the past to dig up information on activists to counter U.N. investigations into allegations of human rights abuses.
Yet the military aren’t the only ones monitoring Israel’s critics. Earlier this year, a secretive organization called Canary Mission began publishing details of BDS activists online. Based in the United States, Canary Mission primarily targets students and academics involved in the boycott movement.
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A special thanks to Telsur for the original publication of this article