Joint List leader, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) on Tuesday, March 17, accused far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of exploiting the coronavirus epidemic as an excuse to shut down the Knesset. “The pro-Netanyahu bloc wishes to shut down the Knesset, saying that this is necessary because we have a COVID-19 situation,” he said. Odeh further accused Interior Minister Arye Deri of wanting to entirely vacate and shutter the Knesset building.
MK Odeh further demanded the immediate suspension of Netanyahu’s new program that allows Israel’s Security Services (Shin Bet) to use data harvested from millions of mobile phones to trace the movements of suspected coronavirus carriers and anyone who has been in their immediate vicinity. MK Odeh warned that this program “obliterated a basic civil right in the middle of the night.” “We know that what is called ‘temporary’ always becomes permanent, so we must immediately halt spying on citizens,” Odeh said in a statement.
According to Netanyahu, the Shin Bet will use data harvested from millions of mobile phones to triangulate the locations and travel patterns of people exposed to coronavirus in one of the most comprehensive national surveillance exercises anywhere in the world.
The program, authorized this week by Netanyahu as an emergency measure, allows the Shin Bet to tap into a trove of metadata including location, identity and other markers that the country’s mobile phone operators are required to maintain as part of their license agreement. However, privacy advocates, opposition politicians and even some members of Netanyahu’s own party have expressed concern over the reach of the program and the accountability of the Shin Bet.
Netanyahu took the decision without consulting parliament, against the objections of members of his security cabinet, and without the approval of the Knesset. Mobile phone companies have provided the Shin Bet with access to customer data since the early 2000s, but the intelligence agency is only allowed to use it in cases involving terrorism or national security. For the time being, the mass surveillance will continue for the next two weeks, as stipulated by the attorney general, instead of the full month that Netanyahu decreed.