The combination of an increase in coronavirus infections and a chaotic and confused policy that has been heavily criticized has led the government to lose a sense of proportion and focus on policing residents. The first decision by the coronavirus cabinet this week was to raise the fine for not wearing a mask to 500 shekels ($146) and to crack down on violations by businesses.
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On Wednesday, the Knesset approved the first reading of a bill to renew the state’s use of the Shin Bet's resources to track people suspected of having contracted the coronavirus, as well asanyone who has come into contact with them. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened an urgent meeting of his cabinet on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the bill, which has the support of Kahol Lavan.
The bill, which has been given preliminary approval by the Knesset, allows more than just the tracking of people’s phones. It includes other means of tracing that are much more extreme, and that essentially allow a spy agency, the Shin Bet, to monitor residents who are suspected to have the virus and find all those who were in their proximity.
It’s hard to find words to describe how badly the Netanyahu-Gantz government is out of touch and the inherent risk it poses to everything connected to individual freedoms. Even Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman opposes using his organization’s technology. During a discussion with ministers he reiterated that this legislation could expose the work methods and technologies of the Shin Bet to our enemies. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to this could come from some parody. “The enemy is already familiar” with the system at issue, he said. “Mr. Security” is suddenly unafraid of exposing the Shin Bet’s secret methods.
The coronavirus government has failed on two fronts: Preparing for the second wave and returning the economy and the school system to a routine state. This is the result of policies based on improvisation and a lack of coordination between the government ministries and between them and the teachers’ unions. Now, after the government has already done this damage, it is trying to reestablish some control by turning to methods that trample on people’s privacy.
Kahol Lavan MKs said they only supported the bill on its first vote so that it can be “on the shelf” if needed, and that in any case it would have more restrictions added. But Kahol Lavan’s voters have learned in recent months exactly how much the party’s word is worth – not very much. Moreover, this bill should not even be put “on the shelf.” It’s a bill that must be opposed.
- Knesset gives initial approval for comprehensive digital tracking by security service in coronavirus fight
- For Netanyahu, most urgent coronavirus measure is resuming Shin Bet tracking
- Health officials call cellphone tracking of patients ‘excuse for policy failure’
Instead of conducting surveillance of its citizens, it would behoove the government to adopt the Shin Bet’s own proposal: To develop and use civilian alternatives like the Hamagen app to locate carriers. It must also take other steps to prevent the spread of the disease, like shortening the time it takes to receive test results, upgrading epidemiological tracing, and persuading the public of the need to keep their distance from others, wear masks and avoid gatherings.
Shin Bet surveillance is not on this list, nor should it be in a democratic country.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.