JERUSALEM (VINnews) — More than 500 of the latest cases diagnosed with coronavirus in Israel were people who were quarantined by the Israeli Shin Bet which used its surveillance technology to determine which people were closest to those infected previously and then ordered them to enter quarantine.
The controversial surveillance program, which some claimed was unconstitutional as it violated the right to privacy of individuals, was nevertheless authorized by the Israeli courts last week and has proved vital in the battle against the contagious virus.
“Without quickly finding them and putting them into quarantine, they surely would have unknowingly infected many more people,” the Shin Bet said in a statement.
Times Of Israel reports that over the past two weeks, the internal security agency has been working with the Health Ministry to retrace the movements of coronavirus patients by using the masses of phone and credit card data at its disposal, which it generally is not permitted to utilize for reasons besides counterterrorism.
“For almost the past two weeks, around the clock, a team of Shin Bet employees have been working to provide the Health Ministry with as accurate a picture as possible on those Israeli residents who were in contact with diagnosed coronavirus patients and who would, by the definitions of the Health Ministry, have been infected with the disease and gone on to infect others — without knowing it,” the Shin Bet said.
The tracking, which uses cell phone location data, credit card purchase data and other digital information, sought to alert and order into quarantine people who were within two meters, for 10 minutes or more, of someone infected with the virus within the past two weeks.
The Shin Bet stressed that its powerful mass surveillance program, which relies on large amounts of data gleaned from Israelis’ cellphones and other digital tools, would only be used for the purposes of fighting the pandemic and that when the pandemic is over it would not continue such surveillance on ordinary citizens.
In the wake of Shin Bet’s success in locating virus carriers, several European nations including Britain, Germany and Italy are considering implementing similar technologies to track potential carriers of the virus and isolate them.