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Gantz ally pushes for softer version of Shin Bet tracing measure

MK Zvi Hauser (Derech Eretz), chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, is seeking to pass a ‘lighter’ version of a bill which if passed into law would permit the Shin Bet to resume tracing coronavirus patients and their contacts, with the aim of winning approval for a stricter version of the legislation as an emergency measure that would expire within a few weeks.

The bill proposes allowing the Shin Bet to use its cellphone tracking technology to identify people who had been in contact with a confirmed coronavirus case to stop the spread of the virus. The lighter version of the bill would allow the Shin Bet to do such contact-tracing only in areas with a high rate of disease transmission, sources say. Sources in the coalition confirmed that the government is pressing to bring the bill to a second and third vote as soon as Monday, whether in its controversial original form or after whatever arrangement the committee may reach.

MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) was critical of putting the bill to a vote so quickly. “Not only does the Israeli government decide to use its secret service to track citizens, now it seems that it plans to pass this decision as irresponsible snap legislation,” she told Haaretz. “The government’s behavior ought to worry every citizen who fears for Israeli democracy. It is irresponsible, extreme behavior.”

If the bill indeed passes a second and third vote, it would conflicts with a declaration by someone close to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who last week said the party would block final approval for this measure. passage of the bill at this stage.

Kahol Lavan’s plan had been to allow the bill to pass a first vote then bring it to a final vote only if there was no other choice but to resume using the Shin Bet tracing.

The committee will convene Monday morning to debate the wording of the bill and the possibility of moving it forward. On Thursday, during a visit by committee members to the Defense Ministry, Hauser gave his first indication that he planned to try to soften the measure.

“I plan to examine a temporary arrangement that will on the one hand allow the Health Ministry to make controlled use, for a short period, of the Shin Bet tool, while on the other hand would give the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee the time needed to conduct a thorough, comprehensive discussion connected to the primary legislation on the issue,” Hauser said.

The defense establishment believes that the state will have hard time relying on the Hamagen 2 app, which is still in development, as a replacement for Shin Bet tracing.

Ronen Herling, acting director-general of the Intelligence Affairs Ministry, told the committee last week that the app would need to have four million active users to be effective.

The technology branch of the National Security Council meanwhile, said it has found a solution for the 3.64 million residents – ultra-Orthodox, elderly, and children – who don’t have smartphones and wouldn’t be able to use the app.

The Health and Intelligence ministries have said they could equip themselves within two weeks with bracelets with Bluetooth capabilities for people who don’t use cell phones if the government decides to fund it. Each bracelet would cost $15.

Original: Jonathan Lis – HAARETZ