Knesset Passes Temporary Law Allowing Digital Tracking of Coronavirus Patients by Security Service

The Knesset passed temporary legislation allowing for digital tracking of coronavirus patients by the Shin Bet security service after two votes on Wednesday.

The vote, which was supposed to take place Tuesday, was delayed to give the governing coalition additional time to whip up support for the bill, which is aimed at curbing the recent spike in coronavirus cases in Israel. Fifty-three lawmakers voted in favor of the bill, while 38 opposed it.

Some Knesset members expressed concern over a possible invasion of privacy resulting from the involvement of the Shin Bet – which is involved chiefly in counterterrorism, and usually does not monitor the movements of law-abiding citizens.

Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh, who opposes the bill, said of the vote: The truth is that the more they take away our privacy rights and the government becomes more draconian, the pandemic only gets stronger. The government has lost control of the pandemic, because it is mostly concerned with how to control us.”

Yisrael Beiteinu lawmaker Eli Avidar also criticized the legislation, saying that “the Shin Bet’s technology is meant to help the Shin Bet keep us secure from terrorism, and absolutely not against the sick or other crises in society. Only dictatorial societies use all the tools at their disposal to impose order, obedience, and slavfery, and we do not want to be like that, although Netanyahu very much would.“

Zvi Hauzer addresses the Knesset plenum, May 15, 2019.Olivier Fitoussi

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel said it would petition the High Court of Justice once more to block the bill, which it says is “unconstitutional.” In a statement, the rights group said: “No democratic state has employed its security service in the fight against the coronavirus… This is a fundamentally wrong move, which shows how easily a government might be tempted to use extreme mass surveillance measures that were developed to fight terrorism, and use them to track civilians.” 

On Monday, the chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Zvi Hauser of Derech Eretz, postponed the vote after Knesset members from the opposition submitted dozens of reservations to the bill. The Health Ministry suggested  a vote on permanent and conditioned legislation next Monday instead, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's chief of staff demanded that Hauser move the vote up to Tuesday.