Israel limits coronavirus phone tracking to 'special cases' after privacy concerns

WION Web Team
Tel Aviv, Israel Published: May 26, 2020, 04.47 PM(IST)

COVID-19 in Israel Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

Government watchdog groups had challenged the practice in court, arguing the use of mass surveillance to track Israel's population is a gross violation of civil and privacy rights.

Israeli government has limited the security services' involvement of the involvement of the Shin Bet security service in locating coronavirus carriers using cell phones, saying from now on the measure would only be used when epidemiological investigations prove insufficient.

Circumventing parliament in March, as the coronavirus spread, the cabinet approved emergency regulations that enabled the use of the technology, usually deployed for anti-terrorism. 

Government watchdog groups had challenged the practice in court, arguing the use of mass surveillance to track Israel's population is a gross violation of civil and privacy rights.

Citing waning contagion rates in Israel, the cabinet amended regulations so that the phone tracking is warranted “in specific and special cases only, where location … cannot be completed with epidemiological investigation using other methods”.

But, a cabinet statement said, the reduced scope of Shin Bet involvement could be reviewed if a coronavirus surge is feared.

Israel – with a population 9 million – has reported 16,712 coronavirus cases and 279 deaths. Schools and businesses have been reopening amid cautious optimism about health policies.

A parliamentary oversight panel and the cabinet have been conferring on legislation that would regulate the Shin Bet involvement.

On Sunday, the cabinet approved a plan presented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz, which seeks to inject an additional $4 billion into the economy, bringing the state’s bailout package to a total of $28 billion.

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