Shin Bet Head: We Promise Not to Misuse Data Collected on Quarantined

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Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90, File)

The Shin Bet Security Service will help keep track of individuals who are supposed to be in quarantine due to their having come into contact with someone who was diagnosed with coronavirus, the government decided late Monday night. The decision was made by ministers over the phone, after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced further strictures on public gatherings earlier Monday night.

Among those strictures is severely limiting the number of people who can come to work. No more than eight people, or 30% of the staff – whichever is greater – can be in an office at one time. Netanyahu also said that the government would increase its enforcement of bans on movement by those exposed to coronavirus, and that he would ask the State Attorney for permission to use “digital technology” to track individuals.

“We had a six-hour discussion on how to ensure that information was protected, and that it would not be used to damage anyone,” Netanyahu said. “Any data collected will be held for no more than 30 days. Israel is a democracy and we must keep a balance.”

Netanyahu did not specify the techniques to do that, but tracking those who have smartphones is not difficult; using a combination of records from cellphone service providers and built-in location technologies, security services could keep track of individuals’ movements. Speaking Tuesday, State Attorney Avichai Mandelblit said that the step was “unusual but necessary to save lives. The government is obligated to take steps to protect citizens’ and residents’ lives, and the purpose of these steps is to save lives.”

Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman told Yisrael Hayom that the organization would use the information as needed, and as directed by the government. “The Shin Bet was recruited to do this after it was made clear that other agencies did not have the capabilities to carry this out. We had lengthy discussions with government and legal officials, including the State Attorney, who gave his permission to use technology for this life-saving purpose.

“The Shin Bet is aware that this is a mission that is outside its usual purview,” Argaman said. “I want to make it clear that I completely understand the sensitivity of this, and as such I insisted that only a very small group of officers be involved in this mission, and that the data collected will not be stored by the Shin Bet. The data will be used only to help save lives. At no time [will] the Shin Bet participate in enforcement or supervision of those in quarantine. Our only interest is to help the Health Ministry in its efforts to save lives.”

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