Monday 25 May 2020

Israeli Shin Bet's involvement in coronavirus crisis raises questions

Israel has given its spy agency Shin Bet the green light to use counter-terrorism operations against those infected with a new coronavirus, treating the pandemic as a security menace.

Speaking at a news conference in al-Quds on Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the China-originated virus, also called COVID-19, as an "invisible enemy." 

He announced that cyber tech monitoring would be deployed to locate people who have been in contact with those carrying the coronavirus.

“We will very soon begin using technology ... digital means that we have been using in order to fight terrorism,” he said.

“Up until today I avoided using these measures in the civilian population but there is no choice,” Netanyhahu added.

Netanyahu admitted that the new measures could infringe on patients’ privacy, but claimed that by using them, “we will be able to see who they were with, what happened before and after and we will be able to isolate the coronavirus."

Shin Bet confirmed that it was examining the use of its technological capabilities to deal with the virus. The tools, it said, would not be used to enforce quarantines, but rather to help authorities track the paths of confirmed virus carriers.

Former Minister of War Moshe Ya'alon, who is currently a lawmaker from the Blue and White political alliance, took to Twitter to denounce Netanyahu's new regulations as a "cynical exploitation of the coronavirus crisis for the personal interests of a defendant before trial."

The Israeli prime minister is facing trial on charges of bribery and fraud and breach of trust.

The head of the left-wing Meretz Party also stressed that the new surveillance measures should not take place without parliamentary and judicial oversight.

“Monitoring citizens with the help of information databases and advanced technology is a harsh blow to privacy and basic liberty," Nitzan Horowitz said.

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