The Shin Bet’s surveillance of Israeli citizens for the purpose of tracking coronavirus infections came to an end as of Tuesday. Ironically, the controversial program, which was opposed by many due to its invasion of citizens’ privacy was ultimately ended by Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman rather than the Supreme Court or the Knesset.
Argaman said Monday that he opposes the continued use of Shin Bet’s technology to track coronavirus cases in light of the low infection rates. As long as the agency’s assistance is no longer strictly necessary he feels the Shin Bet shouldn’t be involved in civilian issues.
Following Argaman’s comments, the MKs of the Knesset Coronavirus Committee froze the planned legislation to allow Shin Bet surveillance to continue. However, the option is open to advance legislation allowing the controversial surveillance in the future if necessary and Argaman said the Shin Bet is ready to resume its surveillance in the case of another virus outbreak.
It is not yet clear how the government will track coronavirus cases without the Shin Bet. The Health Ministry has endorsed a tracking app called MAGEN but users must voluntarily download the app in order to be tracked. Another possible option involves the Health Minstry requesting information from telecommunications companies.
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud), a member of Israel’s Security Cabinet, said in an interview on Reshet Bet on Tuesday that the Shin Bet’s surveillance and tracking program was one of the key factors in stemming the spread of the coronavirus in Israel.
“We’re continuing to look for alternatives,” National Security Council chief Meir Ben Shabbat said shortly before the decision was made to freeze legislation on the Shin Bet’s surveillance program. “Using the Shin Bet isn’t ideal. If we’ll have another option, we’ll use it, with the focus on identifying the source [of the infection] as soon as possible, without imposing general restrictions.”
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)