The Israel Security Agency was established soon after the founding of the state; however its functions, structure and powers were not comprehensively legislated until 2002. Until this time, they were decided by governmental decisions alone. Over the years, various powers granted to the ISA had been anchored in law, such as the 1979 Wiretapping Law, the 1981 Protection of Privacy Law, and others. Nonetheless, these laws were specific and limited in scope, while the overall status, structure, functions and powers of the ISA, as well as the method of supervising its activity, were defined only with the passage of the ISA Statute.
In late 1988, the ISA administration decided to initiate legislation, in order to evaluate the possibility and the necessity of anchoring ISA activity in the law. Following this decision, the ISA worked exhaustively to draft a proposal, which was presented to the minister of justice in 1994.
In 1995, the ISA began a joint project with the Ministry of Justice in order to produce a draft version of the law, which was completed in 1998.
The law was approved in a “first reading” in the Knesset in February 1998, and was referred to a joint committee of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee and the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, to prepare it for second and third readings. Its progress in Knesset was delayed until March 2000 because of elections and a subsequent change of government, as well as additional modifications of the statute.
Intensive work on the statute began in 2001, in a joint committee headed by the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, MK David Magen, together with representatives from the ISA and from the Ministry of Justice. This arduous endeavor resulted in the legislation of the ISA Statute on 11 February 2002.
The law was published in the Official Gazette on 21 February 2002, and took effect on April 21, 2002. For the first time, the ISA’s activities took place within a comprehensive legal framework.
The statute prescribed the need for secondary legislation, in the form of legal ordinances and rules, as well as the establishment of guiding principles, detailing all issues which needed to be determined by legislation. Thus soon after the statute took effect, the ISA established a steering committee for this purpose. Teams were also appointed in a number of units to begin drafting these ordinances, rules and guiding principles.
The ISA Statute establishes four central aspects of ISA activity:
1. Institutional aspect: the status of the ISA and the establishment of its powers, its subordination to the government, and the status of the ISA director.
2. Functions: the mission of the ISA, its functions, general powers granted (including carrying out interrogations), specific powers granted (including carrying out searches, receiving data regarding communications, and carrying out security checks).
3. Control and supervision: the status of the internal comptroller, the requirement of providing the Knesset, the government and the state legal counsel with periodic reports, the requirement of receiving external approval for legal ordinances and rules, and the establishment of an external body to execute security checks.
4. Unique aspects to the ISA: the status of internal supervisory measures, the responsibilities of the ISA employee and his proxy, restrictions on ISA employees during and following their period of employment, and instructions regarding confidentiality.
On the basis of the ISA Statute, the prime minister established ordinances in various areas relating to this law. These ordinances are public.
In addition to these ordinances, instructions and procedures in various areas were also established. These are internal norms which are not public information.