Over 12,000 Israelis Mistakenly Sent Into Quarantine as Result of Shin Bet’s Phone Tracking System

MKs argue over need for Shin Bet surveillance tool; say epidemiological investigations also necessity

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More than 12,000 Israeli citizens were mistakenly sent into quarantine via the Shin Bet's (Israel Security Agency) phone tracking system, a Health Ministry representative said.

He made these comments at a Tuesday meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

In the first week of the renewal of the Shin Bet surveillance system last month, with the Knesset's approval, 70,949 citizens received a text message announcing they had been in close proximity to a confirmed coronavirus carrier, Health Ministry official Ayelet Grinbaum told the committee.

Israeli law states that anyone in contact with a confirmed carrier must quarantine for two weeks or face hefty fines or even jail time.

About a third of those citizens called the Health Ministry's hotline and appealed their quarantine. “We approved 54 percent of them to leave solitary confinement, close to 12,000 people," Grinbaum told the committee.

The debate was initiated by MKs Orna Barbivay (Yesh Atid-Telem), Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism), Heba Yazbak (Joint List) and Hamad Amar (Yisrael Beitenu).

“A tool for thwarting terror that is converted to surveil civilians requires maximum sensitivity and the professional 'casing' of the Health Ministry," said MK Barbivay, who is in isolation and took part in the meeting via Zoom.

Committee Chairman MK Zvi Hauser (Derech Eretz) said that based on the Health Ministry's data, less than 50% of new corona cases are detected by the Shin Bet's surveillance tool and epidemiological investigations conducted over the phone, combined. “This means that we have a gap that justifies the activation of the civil application, Shield 2.0, also in order to expand the epidemiological investigations," he said.