The Lawfare Podcast: Israel’s 'Cyber Unit' and Extra-legal Content Take-downs

By Jen Patja Howell
Thursday, April 29, 2021, 5:01 AM

Odds are, you probably haven’t heard of the Israeli government’s “Cyber Unit,” but it’s worth paying attention to whether or not you live in Israel and the Palestinian territories. It’s an entity that, among other things, reaches out to major online platforms like Facebook and Twitter with requests that the platforms remove content. It’s one of a number of such agencies around the globe, which are known as Internet Referral Units. Earlier in April, the Israeli Supreme Court gave a green light to the unit’s activities, rejecting a legal challenge that charged the unit with infringing on constitutional rights.

This week on Arbiters of Truth, the Lawfare Podcast’s miniseries on our online information ecosystem, Evelyn Douek and Quinta Jurecic talked to Fady Khoury and Rabea Eghbariah, who were part of the legal team that challenged the Cyber Unit’s work on behalf of Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab and Minority Rights in Israel. Why do they—and many other human rights activists–find Internet Referral Units so troubling, and why do governments like the units so much? Why did the Israeli Supreme Court disagree with Fady and Rabea’s challenge to the unit’s activities? And what does the Court’s decision say about the developing relationship between countries’ legal systems and platform content moderation systems?