8 Reasons to Discontinue Shin Bet Surveillance of COVID-19 Patients
1. The efficiency of Shin Bet surveillance is questionable, and the marginal contribution of this surveillance to halting the pandemic does not justify the use of such a drastic measure:
Only about 5% of the hundreds of thousands of people mandated to quarantine during the second wave due to the Shin Bet surveillance were found to be infected, which points to drastically unnecessary and unjustified quarantining. Presumably, if we randomly quarantined the same amount of people - over 750,000 - a similar number of infected persons would have been identified anyhow.
Until mid-October, only 15% of the patients were notified that they are being surveilled by the Shin Bet. Some of those were notified only after they were already in quarantine due to independently finding out they had been in contact with an infected person. Some were notified later.
Since the renewed use of these surveillance systems in July, Israel has found itself in a complete lockdown, and the number of infections reached the top of international charts.
2. The imprecision of the surveillance tools of the Shin Bet, and the heavy price paid by citizens in the form of unnecessary quarantining, lead to a severe damage to the public’s trust. There is a clear link between the renewal of the Shin Bet surveillance in the beginning of July, leading to consequential, massively unnecessary quarantining, and the growing distrust of the public in the health authorities. The loss of trust can be seen in the lack of willingness to cooperate with epidemiological investigations, lack of willingness to get checked, and even concealing information from the authorities. All of these behaviors are, of course, detrimental to the fight against the pandemic.
3. Unlike in the past, today there is a wide-spanning epidemiological investigation system including about 3,000 investigators, in the Homefront Command, Health Ministry, and local authorities. This system can conduct anywhere from 6,000 to 12,000 investigations per day and produce a precise picture of infection patterns. This system makes it possible to halt the chain of infection and is an alternative far more accurate than the Shin Bet surveillance.
4. Unlike in the past, today there is a wide-spanning examination system, capable of conducting over 60,000 exams, and soon - 100,000, per day. This system can offer a quick response to those experiencing symptoms, while also making it possible to conduct extensive surveys across at-risk populations and service providers (for example, checking all kindergarten teachers), thereby halting the chain of infection.
5. Due to the total lockdown, both the overall and daily average numbers of infected persons is significantly lower than before, and the epidemiological investigation system, combined with the survey samples, serves as an effective tool for halting the chain of infection.
6. Today there is an app that can assist in the epidemiological investigation – the Shield 2, but so long as the public feels that “Big Brother” is forcibly surveilling them, they will not see the point of installing the app, and even fear that the information they report on it will be passed directly to the authorities. We can only hope that the discontinuation of Shin Bet surveillance, and an emphasis on the protection of privacy on this consensual app, will lead to its increased usage.
7. The continued use of this surveillance is leading to a normalized use of an invalid tool all the while there are alternatives, as well as an eroded ability to monitor the restrictions placed upon it by the legislature. In the report of the State Comptroller, it was already confirmed that the Shin Bet had been surveilling people who were not infected or in contact with those infected, and that some information was not erased as demanded. History warns that the continued use of the tool, and the fact that dozens of Shin Bet workers are working on surveillance daily, will lead to increased chances of leakage and improper use of information.
8. The slippery slope is already apparent: the government has decided to authorize the Shin Bet to conduct surveillance even within the home of the patient, under circumstances put forth by the Ministry of Health, opposing the Ministry's previous position that no mandatory surveillance will be take place within the homes of patients, for fear of a severe violation to their right to privacy. Furthermore, a law memorandum was recently published to permit the passing of information between the epidemiological investigations and police, which causes great concern for the possibility of information collected by the Shin Bet being leaked to law enforcement, in complete opposition to the law and former promises made by the government.