Israel imposes cyber-monitoring of coronavirus cases

epaselect epa08297791 A man wearing a protective mask in a bus station in central Tel Aviv, Israel, 16 March 2020. Media reports that Israel bans gatherings of more than 10 people in the same place to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus COVID-19. The decision brought the tourism sites in Israel to a complete standstill, many hotels, restaurants, cafes, and theaters in the country are closed. EPA-EFE/ABIR SULTAN
By Reuters
17 Mar 2020 0

JERUSALEM, March 17 (Reuters) - Israel invoked emergency regulations on Tuesday to deploy cyber monitoring in the battle against the coronavirus, saying halting its spread outweighed concerns about the invasion of privacy.

The move will provide the government with cellular data to retrace the movements of people infected by the virus and locate and alert those who had been in their vicinity.

Such cyber monitoring would normally require parliamentary ratification and judicial oversight. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who announced the measure on Monday, circumvented the process by winning cabinet approval on Tuesday to put the order into effect under emergency regulations.

The use of anti-terrorism technology to track infected people and anyone with whom they have come in contact drew criticism from civil rights groups when Netanyahu first proposed it over the weekend.

Israeli authorities said cyber data collected by the Shin Bet internal security service would be limited to halting the spread of the disease and deleted when the emergency is over.

But The Association for Civil Right in Israel called the move “a dangerous precedent and a slippery slope”.

Justice Minister Amir Ohana dismissed the criticism.

“The concerns of those disturbed by cyber monitoring are outweighed by the threat we are facing,” he said on Israel Radio.

Gabi Ashkenazi, a senior member of the centrist Blue and White party, whose leader, Benny Gantz, was tapped by Israel’s president on Monday to try to form a new government following a March 2 election, also criticised the use of emergency orders.

“It’s inappropriate to approve such a measure in this manner, without public and parliamentary supervision,” he wrote on Twitter.

Further measures announced by Netanyahu on Monday included putting most of the public sector workforce on a one-month leave and reducing private sector employees to 30 percent attendance at their workplaces.

There are more than 300 confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel. In the Palestinian territories, 41 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the occupied West Bank, with none in the Gaza Strip.

Israel has taken stringent steps to slow its spread, closing schools, malls, restaurants and most places of leisure, as well as limiting gatherings to 10 people.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said on Monday that anyone coming into the West Bank from Jordan must go into self-isolation for 14 days.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Angus MacSwan)


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