Israel Considers Expanding Secret Service's Role in Coronavirus Fight, but Doesn't Say How

High Court was informed of the government's plan for additional 'assistance' by the Shin Bet, which is already tasked with tracking cellphones of confirmed and suspected coronavirus patients

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Israelis wear protective masks as they sit in Tel Aviv's Dizengoff square.
Israelis wear protective masks as they sit in Tel Aviv's Dizengoff square. Credit: Moti Milrod

The Israeli government told the High Court of Justice Tuesday that it is considering assigning more tasks to the Shin Bet security service as the country battles to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Both the government and the Shin Bet are refusing to provide details about the agency’s new possible mission, despite the fact that it concerns civilians, and is neither confidential nor security-related.

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“The purpose of the move is to improve the effectiveness of the assistance provided to the Health Ministry so that further action could be taken to stem the spread of the coronavirus while partially lifting the restrictions on movement while protecting civil rights,” the government said in a statement.   

Sources familiar with the matter told Haaretz that the government and the Shin Bet chose not to elaborate on the issue because the proposal to expand the security service’s authorities is “only at its initial stages.” The sources added that details of the proposal would be reviewed by a ministerial committee, as well as the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.

The sources added that more information will be given after the Knesset and the government examine the proposal.

The government said that it is considering the move in response to a petition filed to the High Court against the emergency regulations it approved for tracking the cellphones of coronavirus patients or those suspected of being infected. 

Earlier this week, the state told the court that the Health Ministry had examined the option of assigning private companies with tracking cellphones of suspected coronavirus patients, but found that the Shin Bet was the most respectful of privacy.

The statement came in response to a petition filed by attorney Shahar Ben-Meir, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Arab rights group Adalah and the journalists’ association, stating that monitoring by the Shin Bet and the police violated the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty.

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