Israel: Numerous agencies track citizens in health emergency


Thousands of Israelis have been ordered into quarantine without any right of appeal based on cellphone tracking that may be wrong because phone geolocation is insufficiently fine-grained to tell the difference between two people being in the same room and being separated by a door when dropping off and receiving a food delivery. Numerous agencies are performing the kind of tracking formerly carried out only by the domestic security agency, Shin Bet. Among them are Shin Bet itself, which is using cellular networks to track people; the Health Ministry, which has an app that alerts people when they come into possible contact with someone who has tested positive; The Israel Police, who were authorised in mid-March to get location data from the cellphones of those who have been ordered into quarantine to ensure they obey the rules; health management organisations and the startup Diagnostic Robotics, which are building a national database to identify clusters of patients based on a survey; the Interior Ministry, which has been promised personal data on patients and those in quarantine, to be passed on to local authorities; and the Defence Ministry, which is working with NSO Group to score Israelis based on their potential to infect others. A month later, however, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee voted to block an extension bill filed by the government because the loss of privacy was deemed greater than the expected benefit and other means of enforcement, such as phone calls, were available. In the month the programme was active the police had made 500 random cellphone location pings per day against 13,500 people who were on the list maintained by the Health Ministry, had reported 203 arrests of violators. 


Writer: Refaella Goichman; Dan Williams and Ari Rabinovitch
Publication: Haaretz; Reuters