Israel’s Justice Ministry Opposes ‘Unusual’ Collaboration With NSO to Fight Coronavirus

A joint venture led by defense chief Bennett to employ controversial spyware firm’s services to ‘grade’ coronavirus cases raises legal obstacles, officials say, while the Health Ministry says it’s unnecessary

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Israel's Defense Minister Naftali Bennet
Israel's Defense Minister Naftali BennetCredit: Emil Salman
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

The Justice Ministry has requested defense officials to clarify certain aspects of their proposed project to grade citizens on their likelihood of spreading the coronavirus.

The grading system would use data collected by the Shin Bet secret service to give citizens a grade of between 1 and 10. Among other reasons, it is problematic because it was developed in collaboration with the controversial private spyware firm NSO.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 72

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Earlier, the Defense Ministry requested a legal opinion on the plan put forward by Defense Minister Naftali Bennett from the Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.

The Justice Ministry said it was an unusual step as it hands private information about citizens to a private company. The problem is even greater given that the Shin Bet was allowed to track citizens only by invoking emergency regulations. The Shin Bet’s legal department also expressed reservations about sharing information with a private company. Moreover, the Ministry of Health has so far not indicated any need for such measures.

The Ministry of Justice noted to defense officials that it appeared that the tool would retain citizens’ private information for a long time, in contrast with legal restrictions which stipulate the Shin Bet must delete tracking information within days of its collection.

Justice officials believe that in order to approve the project Bennett will have to prove beyond doubt that its advantages cannot be attained through the means currently at the state’s disposal. The ministry now believes that the feasibility of this plan is very low. 

The Justice Ministry has not yet received a request from the Ministry of Health indicating that this system is necessary and that it could help it combat the coronavirus. The tool seems to have been developed without the knowledge of health officials and without any coordination with them.

In order to overcome legal hurdles, the Defense Ministry is considering changing their proposal such that health officials would handle the system rather than the NSO.

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