‘No Tenders in War’: Defense Minister Insists on Team-up With NSO to Battle Coronavirus

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has no intention of backing off of his plan to partner with controversial Israeli spyware firm NSO in creating a system grading citizens on their likelihood of spreading the coronavirus, despite the Justice Ministry’s reservations.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Justice Ministry said it was an unusual step as it hands private information about citizens to a private company. The problem is even greater given that the Shin Bet was allowed to track citizens only by invoking emergency regulations.

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The Shin Bet’s legal department also expressed reservations about sharing information with a private company. Moreover, the Health Ministry has so far not indicated any need for such measures.

Bennett recruited NSO Group, which has been accused of involvement in human rights violations, to build the rating system for citizens based on data collected by the Shin Bet security agency.

Responding to a query from Haaretz, Bennett confirmed that he has “a general familiarity” with NSO Group’s president, Shiri Dolev. When asked whether such a project should require issuing a tender, Bennett replied: “There are no tenders in war.”

Dolev is a close friend of Bennett’s party colleague Ayelet Shaked, who backed the initiative in the Knesset without mentioning the connection. She appeared alongside Shaked on a TV program in 2017, where she was introduced as her best friend.

In a session of the Knesset’s Secret Service Subcommittee on Tuesday, Shaked called on Gabi Ashkenazi, the committee’s chairman, and Sigal Sadetsky, head of public health services in the Health Ministry, to hold a decision on implementing Bennett’s initiative, saying it “could help the Health Ministry very much.”