Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Head of Shin Bet Nadav Argaman and Head of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee Avi Dichter (a former head of Shin Bet), March 20, 2017.

In response to a petition submitted to the High Court of Justice by the Association for Civil Rights and other individuals and organizations against emergency regulations authorizing the Shin Bet and Police to monitor civilians as part of the battle against the coronavirus, the state notified the court on Tuesday that it is considering assigning additional tasks to the Shin Bet in fighting the spread of the pandemic.

According to the announcement, the move is being considered to “improve the effectiveness of the assistance provided to the Health Ministry in order to slow down the spread of the virus while partially removing restrictions on freedom of movement, balancing the full range of rights which are at stake.”

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The petitioners – the Association for Civil Rights, Adv. Shahar Ben Meir, Adalah, and the Organization of Journalists in Israel, claim that Shin Bet and Police tracking constitute a violation of Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty.

The state for its part claims that “it’s difficult to suggest that under the circumstances of a national and global struggle to prevent an uncontrollable outbreak of an epidemic, the patient would feel despised or humiliated by the collection and processing of information on his or her movement during the 14 days prior to their diagnosis, especially when this process is designed to save lives.”

The state has already told the court that the ministerial team overseeing the work of law enforcement agencies, which includes Ministers Yuval Steinitz, Ze’ev Elkin, Amir Ohana and Yoav Galant, is currently considering the move regarding the Shin Bet “while exploring other alternatives.”

The Civil Rights Association said in response that “the government’s announcement of its intent to authorize the Shin Bet for additional tasks expresses most of all the loss of all restraints in the exercise of power. The Shin Bet is designed to operate only in the security field, and not in the handling of civilian issues. The Shin Bet has enormous powers entrusted to it, knowing that it will use them to counter terrorism and not to monitor civilians.”

According to Wikipedia, the Shin Bet’s duties are, indeed, safeguarding state security, exposing terrorist rings, interrogating terror suspects, providing intelligence for counter-terrorism operations in the liberated territories, counter-espionage, personal protection of senior public officials, securing important infrastructure and government buildings, and safeguarding Israeli airlines and overseas embassies.

The Shin Bet operates under the purview of the Knesset Foreign and Security Committee and the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. The Attorney General approves Shin Bet activities, and the Political-Security Cabinet receives reports directly from the Shin Bet director.

Earlier this week, the state informed the High Court—in dealing with the same petition—that the Health Ministry had looked into hiring private companies to replace the Shin Bet in monitoring the coronavirus patients, but dismissed all of them because their accountability regarding patients’ privacy was lower than the Shin Bet’s.

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