Shin Bet said to have secretly tracked most Israelis’ phones for over 2.5 years

TV report says security agency got OK from Justice Ministry officials for controversial program, but few in the government were informed; Knesset, phone companies didn’t know

26 July 2020

Long before the coronavirus outbreak, the Shin Bet security service was secretly tracking Israelis’ cellphones in a clandestine program to fight the Islamic State terror group that lasted for at least two and a half years, and may still be ongoing, according to a television report Sunday.

The classified program, whose name is under gag order, was approved by a team of senior Justice Ministry officials, headed by then-state attorney Shai Nitzan as well as Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, but was not subject to parliamentary oversight, legislation, or any regulations, Channel 13 reported Sunday evening, without citing a source.

Under the program, the cellphones of most Israelis were exposed to Shin Bet tracking. The report did not say exactly what type of data was gathered, though it stated that the security service tapped into databases held by mobile phone companies to harvest information — apparently without the companies’ knowledge.

The report did not say what sort of involvement or oversight the prime minister or the cabinet had in the matter.

It said that the Justice Ministry allowed the service to access personal data of Israelis for an initial six-month period, before later repeatedly extending that term, for at least for 2.5 years — and possibly even until today.