Israeli Government Reauthorizes Israeli Security Agency Surveillance Owing to Covid-19 Omicron Variant

The Israeli Government issued new Emergency Regulations authorizing the Israeli Security Agency (ISA, commonly known by its Hebrew acronym “Shabak”) to track individuals diagnosed with the Omicron variant of Covid-19, and all those who came into contact with them for a period of up to seven days prior to their diagnosis. Tracking is done by monitoring their mobile phones’ signals. Shabak is authorized to process this data and transfer the results to the Israeli Ministry of Health.

The Emergency Regulations will currently expire on Thursday, December 2nd, by which time the Government hopes to enact a law to replace them. However, it is unclear if the move – which is highly controversial in Israel – will gain the support required by the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament. Several Civil Liberties organizations have already petitioned to the Supreme Court against the Emergency Regulations.

In an ironic twist of fate, past opponents to Shabak surveillance, most notably the current Minister of Health, found themselves now supporting the extreme measure, as they moved from the opposition to the Government.

This is not the first time the Government has authorized Shabak to take these measures to assist in cutting off Covid-19 chains of infection: In March 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, the Government ordered Shabak to assist in fighting Covid-19, first, relying on emergency regulations and later, on the basis of a section in the ISA Law. The Supreme Court of Justice decided in July 2020 that this form of surveillance severely violates the right to privacy and therefore must be authorized, in a specific law, by the Knesset. The Knesset then enacted the Law Authorizing the General Security Service to Assist in the National Effort to Reduce the Spread of the New Coronavirus (Provisional Measure) (Amendment), 5780-2020. In March 2021, the Supreme Court of Justice ordered the Government to formulate strict criteria in order to end the comprehensive surveillance by Shabak and use it only in cases where a patient does not cooperate with the Ministry of Health’s epidemiological investigation, or does not at all report on individuals with whom they came into contact. As the pandemic subsided, owing to the vaccinations in Israel, by the end of March the Security and Foreign Affairs Committee of the Knesset had discontinued Shabak’s assistance altogether.