Israel halts police phone tracking COVID-19 patients over privacy issues


Israel’s use of phone tracking technology to track COVID-19 patients has been put on hold as a parliamentary oversight committee blocked an attempt to extend the emergency measures past this week after raising privacy concerns.

The privacy violations outweigh the benefits, committee member Ayalet Shaked said — the phone monitoring tech doesn’t help much when police already pay visits to COVID-19 patients to ensure they’re following the rules.

Police have so far argued that the tool is effective, having arrested 203 people with the help of phone location info. Law enforcement conducted about 500 random location checks per day.

Gabi Ashkenazi, who chairs the committee, said the government would re-examine the wording of the law in light of the concerns and the bill was withdrawn for the time being.

Israel’s other contact-tracing programme, which is unaffected by the change, involves the Israeli security service, Shin Bet, using its technology to identify those who may have come in contact with someone who has had COVID-19.

Last month, Slovakia also passed a law, allowing phone location to be used to track people in quarantine.

EU privacy law and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) does not prevent tracking for public health purposes – but officials say contact-tracing measures must protect privacy rights as much as possible.

Several countries are now considering using Bluetooth – the technology used for wireless earphones.

And Apple and Google announced on 10 April they were working together to provide a software building-block – known as an application programming interface (API).

But Apple is now locked in a row with France, which wants to gather more data than the technology giants plan to allow.

The Bluetooth model is also the basis of the UK’s contact-tracing app, being tested at a Royal Air Force Base in North Yorkshire. (Source: BBC)