ACRI Response to Israel’s COVID Cabinet Reinstating Shin Bet Tracking
The decision of the COVID Cabinet to reinstate the Shin Bet contact tracing in light of the new COVID strain is an ill-fated and illegal decision contradicting the High Court ruling on our petition from March 2021. The High Court ruled that the use of the Shin Bet surveillance tool for contact tracing severely violated civil rights, and pointed out that no other democracy had chosen coercive surveillance by their security service to curb the virus. Further, the High Court ruled that the tracking had not proven effective in preventing the spread of the virus and sharply criticized the government's discretion and disregard for the damage caused by the inappropriate tool, which sent tens of thousands of people into unnecessary quarantine. The Court’s final judgment limited the government’s use of the Shin Bet tracking to cases in which an infected patient refuses to cooperate with epidemiological investigations or does not remember even 1 person with whom there had been contact during the critical period of infection.
What’s more, the use of emergency regulations is especially severe as the High Court ruled in April 2020 that the Shin Bet cannot be authorized to implement contact tracing via Emergency regulations or government decision, but must convene the Knesset and advance legislation. Thus resuming the program via emergency regulation is a blatant disregard for the rule of law.
There are more appropriate, effective, and proportionate alternatives to the Shin Bet tracking, such as the system of epidemiological investigations, which so far has been found to be more accurate than the Shin Bet tool in locating contacts leading to infection. Contact tracing is a very limited tool in dealing with the epidemic and cannot prevent its spread. It is imperative the public understands that even when the Shin Bet contact tracing program was fully active alongside the epidemiological investigation system, close to fifty percent of infected civilians were not identified. Of those who were identified via the contact tracing tool and consequently self-quarantined, about 85% were identified via epidemiological investigation. A minority of infected civilians were discovered exclusively by the Shin Bet contact tracing.
The Association for Civil Rights calls on the government to reject the decision of the COVID Cabinet, and for the Attorney General to ban the government from adopting it. ACRI previously filed four petitions against the tool and will not hesitate to file the fifth, especially under a health minister who previously vehemently opposed the use of the Shin Bet indiscriminately tracking civilians in order to curb the crisis.