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Coronavirus crisis exposes Shin Bet's secret database

Resistance to the Israeli government’s emergency measure to track coronavirus patients has revealed one of the most secretive tools of the Shin Bet in its war against terrorism.

The Israeli government’s March 15 approval of emergency regulations allowing the Shin Bet to track COVID-19 patients and those around them set off a public outcry, for good reason. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and the Joint List petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the new regulations, objecting that even with the fight against the coronavirus and the need to oversee public health concerns, this extreme step tramples on individual rights and democratic norms. The court agreed with the petition, at least in part, and instructed the government that the implementation of the new regulations must be subject to Knesset supervision.

The struggle revealed one of the most sensitive methods used by the Shin Bet in its war against terrorism. Until the recent coronavirus outbreak, it was one of the most secretive. As it turns out, the Shin Bet has what it calls “The Tool,” essentially a secret intelligence database where information about every citizen is constantly collected. The new emergency regulations granted the Shin Bet permission to use it to track coronavirus patients. According to an investigative report by journalists Ronen Bergman and Ido Shvartztuch published March 27 by Yedioth Ahronoth, while the database was originally intended to be used in the war against terrorism, the possibility of it being used for other purposes poses a real threat to civil liberties. One unnamed former top Shin Bet officer was quoted in the piece as saying, “'The Tool' has saved countless of Israeli lives. It is hard to imagine us waging the war against terrorism or our efforts to expose espionage without it.”

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