One of the many anti-democratic ploys unleashed by the Likud in the last dying days of its control over current Israeli politics, was the end-around Bibi Netanyahu did circumventing the Knesset to employ a secret database of all Israeli citizens and monitor them for Covid-19. The NY Times reports that a 2002 directive permitted the Shin Bet secret police to compile the database with names, family members, addresses, phone numbers, identification numbers of all Israeli citizens. The ostensible purpose was to enable the secret police to have tools necessary to fight terrorism:
The Shin Bet has been quietly but routinely collecting cellphone metadata since at least 2002, officials confirmed. It has never disclosed details about what information it collects, how that data is safeguarded, whether or when any of it is destroyed or deleted, who has access to it and under what conditions, or how it is used.
Two laws and a number of secret regulations and administrative orders govern the data-collection effort and its use by the Shin Bet, officials said.
The Telecommunications Law, amended in 1995 with the advent of widespread cellular networks, gives the prime minister broad powers to order carriers to allow access to their facilities and databases “as necessary to perform the functions of the security forces or to exercise their powers.”
Article 11 of the Israeli Security Agency Law, enacted in 2002, lets the prime minister determine what sort of information about cellphone subscribers “is required by the service to fulfill its purpose,” and declares that the companies must “transfer information of these types” to the Shin Bet.
Until this month, Israelis didn’t know such a database existed, let alone that its own secret police compiled and maintained it. Not until Netanyahu suggested that the data be used to police Covid-19 victims and all their social contacts. Presumably, the method of monitoring those with the illness would be linking a list of those who’ve tested positive with their cell phones. This, in turn, would permit the police to use geo-location to trace where victims traveled and who they interacted with. Under the government’s directive, any individual within six feet of a victim for ten minutes or longer would themselves be considered a potential suspect. The tracking would trace the victim’s physical location for 14 days before they showed symptoms of illness. Police would then direct victims and acquaintances into quarantine.
But that would by no means be the end of it: those sequestering themselves would presumably be monitored. If they violated quarantine their cell phone would “give them up.” The police would then remind them of the violation and warn them against further violations. Police are empowered to levy $1,500 fines against those who are repeat offenders:
In addition to the location-tracking effort, Mr. Netanyahu’s caretaker government on Sunday authorized prison sentences of up to six months for anyone breaching isolation orders; barring visitors, including lawyers, from prison and detention facilities and allowing the police to break up gatherings — as of now, more than 10 people — by means including “the use of reasonable force.”
We haven’t yet heard of establishing detention camps for the ‘incorrigibles.’ But that could be coming.
The data compiled during the pandemic would be retained for sixty days and then supposedly be erased. But I don’t know any intelligence agency anywhere in the world which willingly erases data. And I have no faith, given the history of the Shabak, that such a data motherload would indeed be deleted.
There was a wee small problem with the Likud maneuver: it had never been reviewed or approved by the Knesset. When the intelligence committee, comprised of the new MKs just elected to parliament, heard from health officials who warned that it would be necessary to suspend all personal freedoms to combat Covid-19, the MKs balked. They refused to approve the use of the database.
Not to be deterred, Netanyahu moved in the dead of night to approve the measure by fiat. However, the new Blue and White coalition objected and appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court, in a series of rulings which struck down multiple Likud gambits to retain power, told the holdover Likud Knesset Speaker that he had five days to seek approval of the intelligence committee, or else the surveillance scheme would be null and void.
Israeli National Security State Exports Its “Innovations” Throughout the World
These are some most intrusive surveillance methods yet deployed by western governments to monitor all Covid-19 victims. Israel has “innovated” numerous systems which human rights groups have criticized for violating personal privacy or international law. These include racial profiling, extrajudicial killings, armed drones, and biological weapons. These strategies have then been adopted in turn by western nations like the U.S. in its pursuit of strategic interests in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Biological weapons labs throughout the world have begun working on a Covid-19 vaccine. That includes the U.S. military lab at Ft. Detrick, MD and Israel’s chemical and biological weapons lab at Nes Tziona. While finding a vaccine for this deadly disease is laudable, doing so conceals an ugly truth: these labs are experimenting with agents that can kill on a mass scale. The only reason they could find a cure is that they’ve experimented on weaponizing these maladies as weapons to use against their enemies. For example, Nes Tziona developed a drug which neutralized Mahmoud al Mabouh before he was suffocated by his Mossad assassins. The chemical agent broke down into compounds which mimicked a heart attack, making it difficult to detect cause of death. Alternatively, such labs have also sought vaccines and remedies to protect the population should the nation’s enemies employ them in an attack.
Unfortunately, governments see Israel as the pre-eminent counter-terror expert in the world. They turn to Israel to purchase its new battlefield weapons and technology. When they seek advanced security techniques and equipment they turn to Israeli weapons makers and consultants to install and maintain them. In this way, the toxic assumptions underlying the Israeli surveillance state leak out and spread throughout the world:
The Czech Republic has become the first European country to announce plans to deploy a powerful but potentially intrusive location-tracking tool for fighting the coronavirus pandemic, as others consider similar moves bound to put public health in conflict with individual privacy.
The effort announced Tuesday by the head of a Czech government crisis team will use real-time phone-location data to track the movements of virus carriers and people they come in contact with. The aim is to pinpoint where infections are flaring up, how they are spreading and when health authorities need to order quarantines and other containment measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Britain, Germany and Italy are among countries similarly considering enlisting individual location data in the fight against the virus. That worries privacy advocates, who fear such ubiquitous surveillance could be abused in the absence of careful oversight, with potentially dire consequences for civil liberties.
“These are testing times, but they do not call for untested new technologies,” a group of mostly British activists said in an open letter Monday to the country’s National Health Service. The letter noted that such measures could put human rights at risk and may not work.
Czech officials said Tuesday that they will use data from wireless carriers for a voluntary app in which the movements of people who test positive for the virus will be mapped out and the people with whom they have intersected in the previous five days would be individual contacted by phone so that they can get tested. Officials said they expect to launch in mid-April.
The new tool marks a substantial departure from existing European disease-surveillance efforts, which have focused on tracking people’s movements with aggregated phone location data designed not to identify individuals. Italian police also began mobilizing drones on Monday to enforce restrictions on citizens’ movements.
Last week, Israel took the most extreme step yet by charging its Shin Bet domestic security agency with using smartphone location data to track the movements of virus carriers for the prior two weeks, using historical data to identify possible transmission. Epidemiologists call this process “contact tracing,” which has traditionally relied on infected people’s memories to identify individuals with whom they came into contact.
Israel has made a devil’s bargain: in order to protect citizens, the latter willingly sacrifice rights and freedoms. They entrust their generals and spy chiefs with extraordinary powers and place almost no limitations on them. All in the name of the God of security. Nations which buy such technology or emulate Israeli policies are not only purchasing computer programs or hardware, but they are also absorbing the values of the garrison state which is Israel.
It’s critical that before nations adopt such Israeli models that they consider the price they and their citizens pay in sacrificing human rights and the rule of law. Though there is no current U.S. intention to adopt intrusive social surveillance, pressure will increase to do so and the Trump administration will certainly be tempted to do so.
The status of human rights in democratic societies is a slippery slope that gradually leads to authoritarianism or worse. Pandemics and social crises are perfect laboratories for dangerous experiments in social control. We should not be tempted by them.