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Shin Bet to Continue COVID-19 Phone Surveillance for Additional 21 Days

Pedestrians, some wearing masks, prepare to cross a street, in Tel Aviv, Israel, amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, June 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Amir Cohen / File. – Israel’s Ministerial Committee on Intelligence Services on Wednesday extended the mandate given to the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) to trace the mobile phones of coronavirus patients, as part of the epidemiological investigations held by the Health Ministry.

The Shin Bet’s authorization to continue with the contact tracing program was extended by 21 days.

The committee also discussed whether to mandate that members of the public use the Health Ministry phone app that allows tracking by law or through an incentive program, but did not vote on the matter.

Israel’s Knesset first approved the Shin Bet surveillance as an emergency measure in March 2020, but was forced to halt the controversial program after the country’s Supreme Court ruled that legislation had to be put in place for it to continue.

The use of the technology designed to track cellular phones and ordinarily reserved for use in counterterrorism operations came under heavy criticism due to privacy concerns.

On July 1, the Knesset passed a bill temporarily authorizing the surveillance program until July 22, and on July 20 passed a second bill, which will remain in force until January 2021, authorizing the government to renew the authorization every 21 days.

According to Israeli Health Ministry data, of the 65,694 COVID-19 tests conducted on Wednesday, 13.6 percent were positive. As of Thursday morning, the number of active COVID-19 cases in Israel had risen to 68, 811, of which 810 were in serious condition. There were 206 people on ventilators, and the total death toll stood at 1,571.

Israel has entered its second national coronavirus lockdown, which is expected to last for at least several weeks. The Israeli government released a full list of lockdown restrictions last Thursday, just ahead of Yom Kippur.

The new regulations are geared towards halting and reducing the country’s sharply rising COVID-19 morbidity and mortality rates, and come on the heels of a more lenient lockdown imposed on Rosh Hashanah eve. Israel’s first countrywide lockdown was in April.

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