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Israel bans use of tracking app used to quarantine coronavirus patients

Israeli police check vehicles as part of coronavirus (COVID-19) measures in Jerusalem, on 3 April 2020 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]
Israeli police check vehicles as part of coronavirus (COVID-19) measures in Jerusalem, on 3 April 2020 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]

Israel's use of phone tracking technology to track patients infected with the coronavirus has been banned following privacy concerns, according to the BBC.

Technology which uses mobile location data, credit card purchase data and other digital information, aims to alert and order into quarantine people who were within two metres of someone infected with the virus within the past two weeks.

Gabi Ashkenazi of the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) alliance, who chairs the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, said in a statement after the body met that members of the panel had raised significant reservations to the wording of the bill that would have allowed the practice to continue.

Describing the data use as a "great violation of privacy", committee member Ayelet Shaked wrote on Twitter: "The utility offered by this (cell phone tracking) is outweighed by the great harm inflicted to privacy," arguing that police could make do with visits to homes where people have been in quarantine.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel welcomed the freeze of the "extreme" policy, calling it "an important achievement in securing democracy and privacy, and proof of the importance of parliamentary oversight of the government."

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The decision not to advance the bill means that the police had to discontinue the practice as of Wednesday evening.

However, Israel's other tracking programme, which is unaffected by the change, involves the Israeli secret service, Shin Bet, using its technology to identify those who may have come in contact with someone who has had the coronavirus, reported the BBC.

More than a thousand protesters descended on Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Sunday to decry their loss of privacy after Shin Bet was granted the power to track the phones of civilians.

The demonstration was part of the "Black Flag" campaign, which began in March to protest the "anti-democratic measures" put in place by the government in response to the coronavirus.

Israel has reported nearly 14,600 coronavirus cases and 191 deaths.

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