Internal Security Minister: 'Surveillance necessary to curb epidemic'

Interviewed on 103 FM, Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan quells anxiety re: surveillance program: "The data will be destroyed."

Arutz Sheva staff ,

גלעד ארדן
גלעד ארדן
Photo by Roy Alima/Flash90

On Wednesday, the government released details of the surveillance program being used to track those likely to have been infected with coronavirus and ensure that they enter quarantine. Surveillance is being conducted by the GSS (Shin Bet security agency) and the data is also made available to the police, for the purposes of enforcing quarantine.

On Thursday morning, Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan was interviewed by 103 FM and questioned, among other things, on the surveillance program and concerns that data obtained may be abused. The legality of the program has already been challenged and the Supreme Court is set to hear the petition on Thursday.

Minister Erdan stated: “This is indeed an extreme step that we have taken, and the decision followed a discussion lasting eight hours. The data obtained will be destroyed [once it is no longer needed] and the authorization for the program has only been granted for a short period of time. Furthermore, only a small number of people in the Ministry of Health will have access to the data.”

In fact, authorization has been granted for the entire period of “state of emergency” with no end date specified, and in addition, the data will be held for an additional 60 days after the program concludes, to be used by the Health Ministry for research purposes. However, when pressed by interviewer Guy Peleg, Erdan responded sharply, saying, “What do you really think the government is going to do with this data? Do you really want to scare everyone and make them think that democracy is under threat? This program is necessary in order to prevent the spread of the epidemic, and the request originally came from the Health Ministry. All we did was expedite the procedure for getting it approved.”

In a previous interview with Channel 12 News, Erdan made it clear that “the only information being [culled by the GSS] is the location of a person’s cell phone [at a specific point in time, in order to determine if] he was in close proximity to a coronavirus patient.” Anyone identified as having been within two meters of a person known to be sick with coronavirus, for a minimum of 10 minutes, is contacted via an automated message which informs them of the fact, without identifying the virus carrier, and the person is ordered to go into quarantine lasting for 14 days from the time of contact.

Previously, health workers relied on conducting interviews with known virus carriers in order to identify possible channels of contagion. This led in some cases to many more people than necessary being ordered to self-quarantine, due to the inaccuracy of times and places recalled; and in other cases led to the danger of possible carriers not being identified at all. As the number of reported cases rises, relying on interviews has become less feasible, making the surveillance method far more practical. In addition, the names and data of those ordered to enter home quarantine are passed onto the police, in order to facilitate their enforcement of the quarantine rules.