Israel’s top court bans illegal contact tracing


The Israeli Supreme Court has banned the country’s intelligence agency from location-tracing people suffering from COVID-19 until new laws are passed by parliament, warning that it is a “slippery slope” for abuse.

Earlier in March, the country’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, had been given emergency powers to use the technology and track infected people.

The court recently said legislation must be brought in for it to continue past April 30.

But the Israeli government is currently in a deadlock after the recent closely contested election while most members of the parliament and cabinet are in preventive quarantine.

The Supreme Court in its decision warned of a “slippery slope” of using the “extraordinary and harmful tools” against innocent citizens.

“The state’s choice to use its preventative security service for monitoring those who wish it no harm, without their consent, raises great difficulties and a suitable alternative… must be found,” the court said.

It also decided that if tracking laws are brought in, they should include a provision that journalists who become infected can apply for an exemption, in order to protect their sources.

The decision effectively closes the door on phone location tracking using emergency powers granted by the cabinet without parliamentary approval. A parliamentary oversight committee shut down a similar police operation last week.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, one of the groups which brought the court challenge, welcomed the decision, saying: “Israel must not be the only democracy operating its secret security service to monitor its citizens, even in the fight against the coronavirus.”

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, however, said he was concerned by the court’s decision, and that the operations had contributed to the effort to fight the outbreak.

The country has had just over 200 deaths from the virus in the outbreak, with around 15,000 cases. (Source: BBC)