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Israel allows Shin Bet to continue using tracking app for virus carriers

May 5, 2020 at 4:22 pm

Twitter app is displayed on the screen of an Apple Iphone [World’s Direction/Flickr]

A parliamentary panel today made a controversial decision allowing Israel’s Shin Bet security service to continue using mobile phone data for three more weeks to identify those who may have the coronavirus Covid-19.

Last month, the High Court placed a 30 April limit on such use unless it was cemented into law, with the government allowed to request extensions from the Knesset. The government had sought an extension of six weeks, though the secret service subcommittee eventually settled for a deadline of 26 May.

“I see this as the right balance between not using this tool for the entire period and ensuring that there is a legislative process,” said Gaby Ashkenazi, subcommittee chair and Blue and White MK.

However, right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu MK Eli Avidar accused National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat of wanting to change the “democratic state to a state of the Shin Bet.”

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The tracking app, which uses mobile location data, credit card purchase data and other digital information, aims to alert and order into quarantine people who get within two metres, for 10 minutes or more, of someone infected with the virus within the preceding two weeks.

According to Haaretz, Siegal Sadetzki, the head of public health at the Health Ministry, and Raz Nizri, the deputy attorney general, presented data at the session showing that 5,516 people who turned out to have coronavirus were located after Shin Bet traced 3,835. They claim that seven per cent of those who received a message saying that they were near a confirmed case were found to be infected as well.

“Although it is aggressive and has privacy issues, there is no other tool right now,” former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, told Reuters, adding that the committee receives updated data each week.

Opponents believe that such tracking is not needed since the number of patients in Israel continues to drop.