Israel approves mass surveillance to fight coronavirus

Shin Bet director says security agency would not use new measure to enforce or supervise quarantine and its purpose is to 'save lives'; data will be stored much longer than the 30 days promised by the PM
Itamar Eichner|
The government amended and unanimously approved early Tuesday a motion allowing authorities to utilize advanced digital monitoring tools to track and surveil Israelis infected with coronavirus.
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  • The Shin Bet security agency will document and examine the location patients had visited before entering quarantine or being hospitalized and whether they had broken any government directives related to the spread of COVID-19.
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    שוק הכרמל בצל בהלת הקורונה
    שוק הכרמל בצל בהלת הקורונה
    The Carmel Market (the Shuk Hacarmel)
    (Photo: AP)
    The technology will allow the Shin Bet to track down people who were at contagion distance from the patient along their path and report directly to their phones that they have been exposed to the disease and must enter quarantine or get tested for the virus.
    Special artificial intelligence systems can quickly pinpoint the locations of all people who are at risk of exposure and their whereabouts from the point of infection.
    The regulations enable the authorities to collect any digital data, excluding the content of conversations, on either the carriers or those exposed to the virus.
    The measure's implementation does not require a judge's warrant.
    All collected data will be deleted after the government lifts the state of emergency - announced on Monday evening - and not after a 30-day period as initially proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
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    חיטוי וניקויון בתחנות ורכבות ישראל למניעת התפשטות נגיף הקורונה
    חיטוי וניקויון בתחנות ורכבות ישראל למניעת התפשטות נגיף הקורונה
    Health workers disinfecting a train
    (Photo: Israel Railways)
    The data that was collected would be saved for an additional 60 days after the state of emergency is lifted to perform “an internal investigation of the efforts performed by the Health Ministry."
    Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman published a statement clarifying the extent the security agency will be making use of the new regulations.
    “As the head of the Shin Bet security service, I want to make it clear that the sensitivities around this matter are entirely clear to me," he said. "Therefore, I have only allowed a very small group of agency officials to be a part of this matter and that the information will not be saved to the Shin Bet’s databases,” Argaman added.
    "The data collected would be given directly to the director-general of the Health Ministry or the head of the ministry’s public health services, to be used only for the purpose of providing instructions to save lives."
    I would like to emphasize that the Shin Bet will not at any stage enforce or supervise quarantine."
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