Netanyahu Mulls End to Shin Bet Tracking of Coronavirus Patients, Official Says

After court ordered legislation to carry on with surveillance scheme, top legal official says Israel may opt for shelving it instead of pushing bill through parliament

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Netanyahu in his office in Jerusalem, March 2020.
Netanyahu in his office in Jerusalem, March 2020.Credit: Gali Tibbon, AP
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering halting plans to pass Knesset legislation that would permit continued tracking by the Shin Bet security service of coronavirus patients, Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri told Israeli lawmakers on Thursday.

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The Shin Bet is carrying out the practice based on an administrative order that is due to expire, but the High Court of Justice is now . It ordered the government on Sunday to launch a process to do so by Thursday.

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The Intelligence Subcommittee of the ’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee approved in Thursday's meeting Nizri's request to permit the continued use of the practice until Tuesday, in order to give the prime minister and the cabinet more time to decide whether they want to carry on with it. The cabinet is set to debate the issue on Sunday.

If Netanyahu decides that  should be allowed to continue tracking coronavirus patients, the government will have to show the High Court it began promoting legislation to set how this would be carried out.

The legislation process could take several weeks. Once it is underway, the government would be able to carry on with the practice without waiting for a final decision by the Knesset on the matter.

In her ruling, 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.”

Deputy Attorney General Nizri said that on Sunday, after the cabinet meets, the direction it wants to take on the matter will be clearer. “If we’re not going for legislation, clearly it would stop immediately,” he said of the Shin Bet tracking.

Following Nizri’s remarks to the subcommittee, Siegal Sadetzski, the director of public health services at the Health Ministry, told the session, 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 chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Gabi Ashkenazi of Kahol Lavan, said at the end of Thursday’s session that the cabinet has a difficult decision to make and that if it is decided on Sunday to put a halt to the practice, it would stop with immediate effect.

“And if it moves forward, it would come to us [the committee] no later than Tuesday at midnight... and we would decide whether to approve it,” he added.

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