Nissenkorn moves forward with new coronavirus emergency powers bill

Critics note that 93% of those sent into quarantine due to Shin Bet warnings were not infected and that the technology is not as useful if either the coronavirus wave drops or spikes dramatically.

Likud hangs fake Blue and White billboards depicting Avi Nissenkorn. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Likud hangs fake Blue and White billboards depicting Avi Nissenkorn.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The government will start moving forward with a new coronavirus emergency powers bill on Sunday, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn announced over the weekend.
Some of the bill's key parameters are still unclear and may change during the impending Knesset debate. Overall, however, the bill normalizes many of the emergency powers the state has been using since March, while imposing some greater degree of limitations.
Regarding the key question of who will monitor crisis-level coronavirus trends, it appears that despite heated debates in the Knesset for the last 10 weeks, the government still prefers to have the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) take a key role.
No other democracy has used their intelligence agencies to perform such surveillance, though many have pressed their citizens to voluntarily download an application to their cellphones to be surveilled.
Others have convinced cellphone companies to hand over citizens’ data to follow coronavirus trends.
Nissenkorn emphasized the bill’s aspects that will limit emergency powers and protect privacy.
The provisions he flagged included: the Knesset and the courts will continue to function even during a general nationwide coronavirus emergency absent some additional specific reason; the right to protest is protected; policemen cannot enter a residence without a warrant; and initially, a coronavirus emergency is supposed to last only 30 days.
Additional limits that Nissenkorn noted were: The Knesset itself can end the emergency despite government objections; lockdown orders for a specific city or area will be initially limited to one week; the state will take the country’s economic needs into account; and the government will repeal restrictions as soon as the danger passes.
However, since mid-March, critics have demanded a fine limit and end-date for the use of emergency powers and Shin Bet surveillance, or at least a clearer set of benchmarks for ending the surveillance and emergency powers period.
In recent Knesset debates, despite pressure from Knesset opposition members and civil society NGOs, the Likud and Blue and White appear united in their desire to continue Shin Bet involvement in coronavirus-related surveillance. This is despite the growing voices of concern that techniques used by other countries could be sufficient and less invasive of privacy rights.
Previously, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Health Ministry officials have claimed to the Knesset Intelligence Subcommittee that other methods are insufficient because of Israel’s large haredi sector whose restricted cellphones cannot be accessed without Shin Bet technology.
They also claim in general that the Shin Bet technology is superior, that speed is crucial in preventing a second wave and that around one-third of coronavirus infected citizens were found by the Shin Bet.
Critics note that 93% of those sent into quarantine due to Shin Bet warnings were not infected and that the technology is not as useful if either the coronavirus wave drops or spikes dramatically.
Further, critics are worried that despite the law’s limits, citizens’ privacy information will be abused by various government agencies or foreign actors.
The government has committed to try to pass a law on the coronavirus issue within weeks, to satisfy a late April order by the High Court of Justice which said the state could not maintain emergency powers without passing new and properly debated legislation.


Tags Shin Bet