Israel's SIGINT Oversight Ecosystem: COVID-19 Secret Service Location Tracking as a Test Case
25 Pages Posted: 16 Dec 2020 Last revised: 29 Apr 2021
Date Written: November 30, 2020
By mid March 2020, Israel had experienced the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Within a fortnight confirmed coronavirus cases surged from half a dozen to 178 cases. The government responded to the challenge of identifying potential carriers by tasking the Israeli Security Agency (the ISA, or Shin Bet) with cellphone location tracking of the routes of confirmed coronavirus patients and the identifications of individuals with whom they had been in close contact.
Israel's ISA communications metadata collection measures have been shrouded in veil of secrecy. The debate – in parliament and in court - regarding the use of the country's secret service counterterrorism mass surveillance measures to contain the spread of the pandemic, is a rare opportunity to assess whether the institutional oversight mechanisms on SIGINT collection activities are sufficient and effective.
The paper will (1) describe the existing SIGINT oversight regime in Israel; (2) describe its response to COVID-19 location tracking in Israel; and, (3) in light of existing literature, will provide an analysis of that response.
Keywords: ISA, Shabak, Coronavirus, Mass surveillance, Surveillance law, Intelligence oversight, Shin Bet, Privacy law
JEL Classification: K10, K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation