The Shin Bet (Israel’s Security Agency) was responsible for discovering and tracking down 24% of the approximately 16,700 Coronavirus (COVID-19) patients in Israel, as opposed to 28% discovered through epidemiological investigation.
The Knesset’s Intelligence Subcommittee on secret services on Tuesday approved the government’s request that the Shin Bet be allowed to continue tracking potential Coronavirus patients to help reduce the virus’ expansion for another three weeks until June 16.
During this time period, the government is supposed to pass proper legislation on the issue.
For the past nine weeks, the Shin Bet has been using phone tracking technology, usually employed in tracking terrorists, to track Coronavirus patients and those who may have encountered them.
However, the Committee reduced the scope the Shin Bet’s authorization so that it can only assist unique cases in which epidemiological investigations or other methods are insufficient to complete the identification of people who came into close contact with a patient.
Several attendees at the meeting criticized the method, saying it was an infringement on the right to privacy.
Professor Sigal Sadecki, head of public health services at the Ministry of Health, highlighted the need for the Health Ministry to continue relying on the Shin Bet’s assistance, saying that while the duration of the epidemiologic investigation has greatly improved and it now takes a day and a quarter to complete, human memory limitations are what makes the Shin Bet’s tracking useful since a person cannot remember or even be aware of everyone who came in contact with him during the previous two weeks until the patient was diagnosed, while the telephone can.
However, Professor Karine Nahon, of Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) noted that of about 16,700 confirmed patients, 24% of whom were discovered by the Shin Bet, while 28% have been found in epidemiological investigations. However, there is no information about the overlap and how much the Shin Bet really discovered patients beyond the epidemiological investigation.
She also noted the shortcoming of the Shin Bet’s tacking abilities and underscored its lack of effective in crowded areas.
“In these percentages and in the number of patients today, we are talking about something like two patients a day identified by the Shin Bet, does it really justify the use of the tool?” she asked.
Committee chairman Zvi Hauser said that more than 4,000 patients were detected through the Shin Bet’s tracking, about a quarter of those detected.
“That’s a high percentage of infection chains that wouldn’t otherwise be interrupted,” he stated.