Deputy health minister: Extend Shin Bet surveillance until end of plague

Knesset lets program go on without even voting

HOME FRONT Command soldiers work at the Dan Hotel in Jerusalem in April, after it was turned into a quarantine facility. (photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR/FLASH90)
HOME FRONT Command soldiers work at the Dan Hotel in Jerusalem in April, after it was turned into a quarantine facility.
(photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR/FLASH90)
Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch on Monday essentially asked the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to amend the corona law so as to extend Shin Bet surveillance of infected citizens until the end of the plague.
Currently, the law stipulates that if the number of new infections per day drops below 200 on average that the security agency must cease its tracking of corona infected citizens.
Kisch said, “to date the Shin Bet has identified well over 40,000 infected persons independent of any other tracking methods. It is already clear to us that even with the best possible epidemiological tracking methods, we cannot get to everyone.”
He said this was true, “whether because people choose not to provide all of the information or whether because they really do not remember, but it is clear that we have a unique tool here. So I have requested... to amend the law to consider allowing the Shin Bet to use its tool even during days where there are under 200 infections.”
The deputy health minister made it clear that his view was that privacy issues had become a much smaller consideration and that even if the Shin Bet was only an add-on to the now large epidemiological apparatus, it should be maintained at all costs as long as it continued to find infected persons who otherwise would be missed.
Committee Chairman Zvi Hauser seemed to consider Kisch’s suggestion and certainly was in no rush to stop Shin Bet surveillance, even as infection rates have dropped from 8,000 per day to around 500 per day.
Hauser said the committee would not even vote on the issue until the Health and Finance ministries provided clearer answers about shortening the quarantining period.
A direct result of the committee’s failure to vote on Monday was that the Shin Bet surveillance automatically continues.
The committee chairman expressed disappointment that the government was currently only considering shortening the 14-day quarantine model to 12 days and only for a two-month pilot program.
He said that he has been pushing to reduce quarantine to 10 days and sees no reason to wait to do so, let alone to wait two months for a pilot program’s results.
Hauser said that a shorter quarantine will convince more citizens to abide by it – following reports that huge percentages of citizens are violating quarantine rules – and save the economy hundreds of millions of shekels per month.
Various experts and NGO heads, including the Organization of Doctors for Public Health Chairman Hagai Levine and Israel Democracy Institute scholar Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, slammed the continued Shin Bet surveillance program.
They noted that the state comptroller report said that well over 90% of those put into quarantine by the Shin Bet were not infected and that the continuing violations of privacy rights is highly problematic.
Further, they said that the global trend is for smaller community groups, such as schools and businesses, to carry out epidemiological checks, where citizens are more forthcoming.
In contrast, they said the Shin Bet technology has a limited reach to track coronavirus trends and that Kisch’s latest request shows that the government does not take harm to privacy rights seriously.
The Shin Bet has been performing surveillance since mid-March, but was briefly halted in June for three weeks in between the first and second corona waves.
The High Court of Justice is currently hearing a petition to strike down the program as unconstitutional, but the justices’ questions to the petitioners have shown they will likely decline to intervene.