Finding a Right to Privacy in Halakhah

Over the past year, controversies concerning the collection of user data by Facebook and other websites have raised questions concerning the preservation of privacy in the digital age. The increasing ubiquity of security cameras and the advent of the so-called Internet of Things—systems that allow household appliances, doors, heating systems, and so forth to be controlled by laptop and cell phone—pose even greater privacy concerns. Examining traditional Jewish law, or halakhah, for a concept of the right to privacy, Aviad Hacohen and Gabi Siboni suggest that secular Israeli law could learn from it in dealing with these challenges:

The ban on infringing upon a person’s privacy is specifically mentioned in Jewish law in many contexts. . . . For example, the Mishnah states, “A person must not create an opening [in his own house] opposite an opening [in his neighbor’s], or a window opposite a window. If his opening or window is small, he must not make it larger. If there is one opening, he must not turn it into two openings.” . . . In his commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir explains that the ban on creating a new opening opposite the opening to his neighbor’s yard (or even a yard shared by both of them) is designed to prevent damage caused by looking into another person’s property; that is, infringement on another person’s privacy.

[The contemporary scholar] Eliyahu Lifshitz explains that the Mishnah shows that damage to privacy caused by opening a window opposite a shared yard is relative and not absolute damage. For this reason, there is no requirement to conceal an existing window, even a large one; it is merely forbidden to create a new window or enlarge an existing one. If the window existed even before the neighbors moved in, they cannot force the window-owner to change his situation; rather, they must take their own measures to prevent the infringement of their privacy. . . .

Jewish law took a more significant step in protecting a person’s privacy regarding personal documents—such as medical records, letters, and, nowadays, material stored on a personal computer—based on a ruling by Rabbi Gershom ben Judah, the greatest Jewish sage in Germany in the 10th century. Among other things, he enacted a ban against any person who reads someone else’s letters without permission, since doing so invades the letter-writer’s privacy. . . .

The general prohibition against infringing upon privacy as well as the specific prohibition against accessing another’s records without that person’s explicit consent are therefore deeply rooted in Jewish law. Accelerated technological development, the weaknesses of cyberspace, and difficulties in security pose new and exciting challenges to Jewish law concerning the application of ancient principles to our times—pouring the fine old wine of Jewish law into the new container of the legal system in Israel, whose values are both Jewish and democratic.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Facebook, Halakhah, Israeli law, Law, Rashbam, Technology

Hizballah Is Learning Israel’s Weak Spots

On Tuesday, a Hizballah drone attack injured three people in northern Israel. The next day, another attack, targeting an IDF base, injured eighteen people, six of them seriously, in Arab al-Amshe, also in the north. This second attack involved the simultaneous use of drones carrying explosives and guided antitank missiles. In both cases, the defensive systems that performed so successfully last weekend failed to stop the drones and missiles. Ron Ben-Yishai has a straightforward explanation as to why: the Lebanon-backed terrorist group is getting better at evading Israel defenses. He explains the three basis systems used to pilot these unmanned aircraft, and their practical effects:

These systems allow drones to act similarly to fighter jets, using “dead zones”—areas not visible to radar or other optical detection—to approach targets. They fly low initially, then ascend just before crashing and detonating on the target. The terrain of southern Lebanon is particularly conducive to such attacks.

But this requires skills that the terror group has honed over months of fighting against Israel. The latest attacks involved a large drone capable of carrying over 50 kg (110 lbs.) of explosives. The terrorists have likely analyzed Israel’s alert and interception systems, recognizing that shooting down their drones requires early detection to allow sufficient time for launching interceptors.

The IDF tries to detect any incoming drones on its radar, as it had done prior to the war. Despite Hizballah’s learning curve, the IDF’s technological edge offers an advantage. However, the military must recognize that any measure it takes is quickly observed and analyzed, and even the most effective defenses can be incomplete. The terrain near the Lebanon-Israel border continues to pose a challenge, necessitating technological solutions and significant financial investment.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Hizballah, Iron Dome, Israeli Security