Israel Freezes Bill Allowing Shin Bet Tracking of Coronavirus Patients Due to Agency’s Objection

A bill that would allow Shin Bet to track confirmed and suspected coronavirus patients was frozen on Monday, potentially ending the Israeli government's use of the secret service's capabilities in its efforts to curb the pandemic's spread.

In a meeting of the government panel tasked with managing the coronavirus crisis, it also green lighted a bill that would write into law the government's authority in imposing emergency regulations, which still has to be voted on by the Knesset. Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that the bill will be voted on next week.

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According to sources who attended the meeting, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman told ministers that his defense agency should not be involved in what officials there said was a controversial civilian issue.

The organization's capabilities, Argaman said, are no longer needed, seeing as the pandemic is under control in Israel. Furthermore, Shin Bet has been concerned it could expose some of the technologies it uses.

It was Argaman's opinion, according to sources who attended the meeting, that let to the ministers' decision to put the bill on hold. The Shin Bet chief proposed using civilian tools, like "HaMagen" app, instead of the agency's technology.

A Knesset panel for intelligence gave the government 48 hours to present an amended version of the bill, should ministers decide to do so.

Association for Civil Rights in Israel, who petitioned the High Court of Justice in a bid to block Shin Bet tracking, released a statement saying, “There’s no place in a democratic society to employ mass, constant surveillance against innocent civilians. This is a slippery and dangerous slope.”