Ministers Urge Redeployment of Shin Bet Corona Surveillance

Shin Bet security service chief (Nadav Argaman. Flash90)

The Shin Bet surveillance of coronavirus carriers was discontinued due to concerns about potential invasion of privacy, even though the effectiveness of the program was widely acknowledged.

On Monday, the coronavirus cabinet is scheduled to convene, and reactivating the controversial tracking program is said to be at the top of the agenda.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein argued on Sunday in favor of bringing it back to help stem what appears to be a second wave of infections:

“The [cellphone] location is very important. It’s preferable that the information be in the hands of the Shin Bet than a private company with who-knows-what ulterior motives,” Edelstein said after meeting with ministry officials. “We’re in critical days and quickly interrupting the infecting chain… is very important in order to flatten the curve while leaving the economy open.”

Minister of Energy Yuval Steinitz told the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday that the Shin Bet’s services are needed because it can “break infection chains within a few hours and not a few days.”

He argued that, as long as there is no viable alternative, “the tool that has proved to be the most effective in cutting the infection chains must not be waived.”

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu‏‏ has not taken any public position on the matter, though he is reportedly leaning toward reintroducing the surveillance.

However, opposition reportedly has come from the Shin Bet itself.

Agency chief Nadav Argaman was heard arguing against it, in recordings aired by Channel 12 news.

“In a situation where there is very widespread infection and there isn’t another solution, it would be right to transfer this to the [Shin Bet],” Argaman said. He explained why the technology should only be used in extreme cases, though for security reasons that part of the tape could not be aired.

PM Netanyahu responded to Argaman, saying: “The ships are coming one after another and we’re refusing to believe. And they say nothing will happen. Our responsibility is to stop this pandemic. The pandemic is returning! Returning! The question now is how much we’re prepared to do about this thing, which will quickly reach us.”

The network didn’t say when the recordings were made.