Fate of Israel's COVID-19 Surveillance Program to be Decided This Week

The domestic intelligence agency's tracing of the phone location of coronavirus patients will be halted unless the government introduces legislation to allow it. The chairman of the parliamentary committee overseeing the program said less invasive technological options should be considered

Lieut. Gen. (Res.) Gabi Ashkenazi. Photo: Shmulik Grosman, Knesset Spokesperson's Office 

An Israeli parliamentary oversight committee decided on April 30 to extend the government's use of the Israel Security Agency (ISA)'s electronic tracking capabilities to locate confirmed and suspected coronavirus carriers until midnight on May 5.  
 
The Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee said that unless the government introduces related legislation, the program's mandate will not be extended.  The emergency regulations permitting the surveillance were passed by the government in March with the approval of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. 
 
The government had requested an extension until May 7, which commentators interpreted as meaning that the government intends to submit legislation although no official decision has been made.
  
Deputy Attorney General Raz Nazri told the committee that a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to be held during the next week to discuss the future of the program. He said the tracking will be halted immediately if the government decides not to pursue legislation. 
 
The committee's chairman, Lieut. Gen. (Res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, said "We understand there is a risk, but will we will have to live with the coronavirus routine for the next year so it is important to check other technological options." 
 
"The coronavirus is with us. Less invasive measures should be chosen," added Ashkenazi, a former IDF chief of staff. 
 
Under the program, between March 18 and April 25, the Health Ministry provided the ISA with the details of about 15,000 coronavirus patients. About 74,000 people who came into contact with a confirmed carrier were identified as a result of the tracking, and were informed by the ministry that they should quarantine themselves. 
 
Sigal Sadetsky, head of public health services at the ministry, said that without the use of the agency's surveillance, the ministry will be unable to locate a large number of people who should be quarantined. "It's clear to us that we need it for the reopening of the economy," she said.
  
According to Sadetsky, although the daily number of new infections is declining, it will start to increase again once restrictions are significantly loosened, and that is precisely when the ministry will need to locate every infected person and those who come into contact with them.
 
 

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