(July 2, 2020 / JNS) Israel’s Knesset on Wednesday approved a bill temporarily authorizing the Shin Bet to monitor the cell phones of civilians known to be infected with coronavirus. The bill passed its third and final reading with 51 Knesset members supporting it and 38 opposed.
The new legislation establishes a temporary arrangement, valid until July 22, allowing the Shin Bet to use advanced technology, normally employed to track terrorists, to locate either known coronavirus carriers the Health Ministry is having difficulty finding, or “for broader use any time that the number of infections the day before rose to at least 200 people.”
The law also specifies that a ministerial committee be set up to “constantly assess” the need for the surveillance, “based on the morbidity rate and the Shin Bet’s contribution to decreasing [it], while taking into consideration the [public’s] right to privacy.”
Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman MK Zvi Hauser said in in a statement that “unfortunately, the committee is under the impression that there is still no ripe civil alternative that can provide a response with the same level of efficiency.”
Hauser added that if the chain of infection is not broken, “the only possible alternative is a return to imposing lockdowns and restrictions, which would result in a devastating blow to the hundreds of thousands of people who will not be able to sustain such a decree.”
This is not the first time that the Shin Bet has been authorized to use surveillance technology to track coronavirus carriers. The Knesset approved the use of such technology as an emergency measure in March, but ultimately halted the program after the Supreme Court ruled that legislation had to be put in place to regulate it if it was to continue.
The new law specifies the type of information that the Shin Bet may process and that it may transfer to the Health Ministry. It also limits the length of time that the data may be kept within the computer systems of the Shin Bet and Health Ministry.
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