Israel will use counter-terror technology to curb the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, according to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – in a move critics say could have a damaging effect on personal privacy.
The measures, announced by Netanyahu in Jerusalem Saturday, may include tracking Coronavirus-infected individuals’ smartphones, to monitor breaks in quarantine. Cabinet members must ratify the changes. Netanyahu used bellicose language to describe the virus as an “invisible enemy that must be located.”
Yet Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, has denied in a statement that it will police isolations via handheld devices. “There is no intention of using said technologies for enforcement or tracking in the context of isolation guidelines,” it claims.
“In all my years as prime minister I have avoided using these means among the civilian public but there is no choice,” Netanyahu said during his announcement, causing consternation among the nation’s privacy advocates. Avner Pinchuk, of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said the measures seemed “potentially like overreach.”
Israel shut down hotels, day-cares, restaurants, heritage sites, theaters and shopping centers on Sunday, mirroring similar decrees across Europe. It has also refused entry to all foreign visitors unless they undergo 14 days of quarantine, as the World Heath Organization says that Europe is now the epicenter of the Coronavirus pandemic.
To date, 250 Israelis have tested positive for Coronavirus. Thousands have been placed in isolation. Thirty-nine cases have been reported in the West Bank. No cases have arisen in the blockaded Gaza Strip – though experts warn its tight population density and lack of facilities could rapidly accelerate an outbreak.