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Israel turns to anti-terror technology to counter coronavirus

Awaiting Cabinet approval, the Shin Bet plans to implement digital counterterrorism technology to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Israel’s government approved on March 15 emergency regulations that would enable the Shin Bet to perform mass surveillance of phones belonging to Israelis who contracted COVID-19. These measures are not designed to monitor quarantined people but to retroactively track the movements of those found to be carriers of the novel coronavirus in order to see with whom they interacted in the 14 days before they were diagnosed. Subsequently, people who were in contact with persons diagnosed with COVID-19 will receive SMS messages instructing them to enter home quarantine.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the use of these digital counterterrorism measures in the framework of several drastic steps to be taken immediately in order to curb the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Speaking at a press conference on March 14, Netanyahu announced the partial shutdown of the country’s economy and public transportation. He also acknowledged that the digital measures to be used might interfere with people’s privacy, but he argued that Taiwan successfully used similar means in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Government officials stressed that Netanyahu received authorization from the government’s legal adviser to use these tools after receiving a request on the matter from seniors in Israel’s health system.

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