State Comptroller Criticizes Government for Using Shin Bet Tracking

On Wednesday, Matanyahu Englman, the state comptroller directed criticism towards the decision of the government to use the Shin Bet security service for tracking people who had come into contact with the patients of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. Speaking at a conference, the state comptroller said that it was of the utmost importance that even during a pandemic, countries, including Israel, should protect the privacy rights of people and act appropriately, carefully, and quickly. Englman stated that a year ago, he had published a report for discussing the shortcomings of the efficacy of such tracking. 

According to the report, thousands of Israelis had been told to go into quarantine because of the Shin Bet tracking service, but only 3.5% of them had ultimately tested positive for the virus. The report had also recommended that the Health Ministry tracers and the Shin Bet work together, which hasn’t been adopted by the government even though they have decided to dispatch the Shin Bet once more. As per the state comptroller, the tracking had turned out to be incorrect in many instances and people had been unnecessarily sent into quarantine. The Knesset had passed a bill into law last year that authorized the Shin Bet to track Israelis using their cellphone data, along with other sensitive information. 

This was to be used for identifying coronavirus patients and the people they came into contact with. Privacy and rights groups had criticized this program, but officials were full of praise for it because it enabled them to stop the spread of the virus by giving the government the ability to notify people who had been in contact with confirmed carriers of the disease. However, the program has now been reintroduced on a limited scale, as it will only be used for patients who are suffering from the newly-found Omicron variant of COVID-19. 

Raz Nizri, the deputy attorney general in Israel said that the renewed use of phone tracking had ‘many problematic things’ associated with it, but went on to say that the Omicron variant was an ‘exceptional case’. On Sunday, Ministers had given their approval of the reintroduction of the tracking program by Shin Bet after they had used a similar one in the early days of the pandemic. The Prime Minister’s Office disclosed that the program will expire on Thursday, but will be examined every day. The PMO said that the program would be discontinued in the case of a ‘wide breakout’. But, no explanation for the term was provided.

They are not tracking confirmed carriers of any other strains or people who have been exposed to the Omicron variant or any other variant. The tracking is opposed by a number of coalition members, which includes four ministers, as they claim that it violates the privacy of the citizens. Legislation was approved on Tuesday morning by the government, which would allow the tracking to be continued beyond the deadline on Thursday and under a permanent law, instead of just emergency regulations. This bill would be voted in the Knesset in a few days. 

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