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Israel limits coronavirus phone surveillance to 'special cases'

May 25, 2020 at 11:10 am

A mobile phone screen displays Microsoft Edge Web browser application on December 25, 2019 in Ankara, Turkey [Doğukan Keskinkılıç / Anadolu Agency]

The Israeli cabinet limited on Sunday the involvement of the Shin Bet security service in the mobile phone-tracking of people infected by the coronavirus, saying the measure would be a last resort where epidemiological investigation proves insufficient, reported Reuters.

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. Privacy watchdog groups have challenged the practice in court.

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.

Read: Israel eying post-corona global instability to increase sales of surveillance systems