Cabinet approves extending Shin Bet’s authority to track coronavirus carriers
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Cabinet approves extending Shin Bet’s authority to track coronavirus carriers

Extension of controversial program, which is set to expire Tuesday at midnight, must still be approved by Knesset committee; ministers also give backing to anchor tracking in law

A woman speaks with a police officer at a roadblock in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Romema, which is under a lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, May 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A woman speaks with a police officer at a roadblock in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Romema, which is under a lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, May 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Cabinet ministers on Monday authorized an extension of controversial emergency regulations allowing Israel’s domestic spy agency to use sensitive personal data to track coronavirus carriers.

The extension must still be approved by the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which is set to convene Tuesday.

Ministers also green-lighted a proposal for the draft legislation to be drawn up by May 18 to anchor the Shin Bet tracking program in law.

If the extension is approved by the Knesset committee, as expected, the regulations will remain in effect until June 16, unless the proposed legislation is passed into law before then.

The program was approved through emergency regulations in mid-March. But last week the High Court of Justice ruled that the practice could not continue beyond April 30 unless a legislative process was commenced to anchor the practice in law. However, the court granted the government the right to approve an extension of the tracking measures on condition that it began the legislative process.

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man speaking on his cellphone walks past people praying at the nearly deserted Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on March 12, 2020. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)

Following that decision, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Thursday approved the continuation of tracking by the Shin Bet until Tuesday at midnight, giving the government extra time to decide if it wants to legislate the program.

Under the government’s emergency regulations, the Shin Bet is not permitted to continue using the data after the program ends, though the Health Ministry is allowed to use the information for an additional 60 days for research purposes, presumably to retrace the path of the outbreak.

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

The government has said the Shin Bet has managed to locate hundreds of coronavirus cases by identifying people who have been in close proximity to confirmed carriers.

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