As Criticism Mounts, Israeli Secret Service Wants Digital Coronavirus Tracking Reexamined

Shin Bet to convene urgent meeting with top officials, as Knesset panel demands solutions after thousands of Israelis claim they were mistakenly sent into quarantine with no way to appeal

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Israelis use their cell phones on the platform in Binyamina as train service resumes, June 22, 2020.
Israelis use their cell phones on the platform in Binyamina as train service resumes, June 22, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman is set to meet on Wednesday with top government officials to discuss cell phone tracking of coronavirus patients by the security service, following widespread criticism of citizens’ inability to appeal quarantine orders issued as a result.

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At the behest of Argaman's organization, an urgent meeting was scheduled with National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabat and health and finance ministry officials to discuss the issue.

Meanwhile, the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman, Zvi Hauser, said he would “reconsider extending” use of Shin Bet tracking.

The Health Ministry sent messages last week instructing more than 30,000 people to self-quarantine after the Shin Bet security service digital tracking system reported that they had been in close proximity to confirmed coronavirus patients.

However, some of those who were ordered into quarantine say they were at home at the time in question and were not in contact with anyone, but that they have no means of appealing the order.

"The economic crisis is growing," Hauser said, "we do not have the option of quarantining thousands of citizens and cutting them off from the workforce for two weeks without checking if they were actually exposed to a confirmed patient."

He said that he received assurances from the Health Ministry Monday that by Wednesday, they would establish an appeals center for those who received Shin Bet messages, where they would be able to get necessary clarifications.

"If the ministry does not find a solution to this oversight in the coming days, I will be forced to reconsider approving a continuation to this tracking," Hauser said. "It's an important tool, but it is a complementary tool, and can in no way stand as a means with no supervision or accuracy."

Argaman opposed renewing the use of the Shin Bet's tracking system to identify people who came in contact with coronavirus carriers; no Western country is taking similar measures.

Argaman feared the complications involved in running the system, the possible mistakes in identification, the potential exposure of the Shin Bet's abilities and entering a field in which there is widespread friction with ordinary citizens.

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