Netanayhu Seeks Legislation to Extend Shin Bet Tracking of Potential Coronavirus Patients

Public Health chief insists the practice is a prerequisite to reopening the economy, but there are concerns legalizing it could make it routine practice after outbreak ends

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A woman and man using their phones in Jerusalem, March 15, 2020.
A woman and man using their phones in Jerusalem, March 15, 2020. Credit: Emil Salman

Israel's government asked to extend emergency regulations allowing the Shin Bet security service to monitor and track coronavirus patients on Monday. 

The cabinet asked for an extension until June 16, or until legislation is ready to give the practice a parliamentary approval, whichever comes soonest. 

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The decision now rests with the Intelligence Subcommittee of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, chaired by Kahol Lavan lawmaker Gabi Ashkenazi, who will meet at 8:00 A.M. on Tuesday.

Some are concerned that, if legislation was to be approved, surveillance could continue even after the country resumes a normal routine. The practice of Shin Bet cyber tracking is based on an administrative order that is due to expire, but the High Court of Justice has requiring that it be enshrined in legislation.

The Shin Bet is using methods originally developed to counter terrorism to locate and track potential carriers of the coronavirus by determining who diagnosed patients came into close contact with.

An Anti-Netanyahu protest in Tel Aviv, April 25, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Despite raising privacy concerns, it was implemented by an Israeli executive imbued with emergency powers with relatively little opposition. As the country moves towards renewed normalcy, demands for parliamentary approval and oversight of the security service have increased.

In her ruling last week, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut said that the legislation is required “given the fact that the means chosen by the state … seriously infringe on the constitutional right to privacy, which should not be taken lightly.”

Addressing the Intelligence Subcommittee last week, Siegal Sadetzski, the director of public health services at the Health Ministry warned that “without making use of the Shin Bet, we would lose [track of] a great many people under quarantine and a great many patients, and it’s clear to us that this is needed if we are to open up the economy.”

The Subcommittee then approved a request by Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri to permit the continued use of cyber tracking until Tuesday, in order to give the prime minister and the cabinet more time to decide whether they want to advance legislation. Nizri had earlier told the committee the prime minister was considering ending the tracking altogether.

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