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Israeli High Court Orders Gov’t to Minimize Cellular Network-Based Tracking of COVID-19 Cases; Parliament Subsequently Discontinues the Measure Altogether

Publications / Mar 31, 2021

Article written by Haim Ravia and Dotan Hammer

The Supreme Court of Israel struck down major components in the Israeli government’s nearly one-year-long use of the Israeli Security Agency (colloquially called “Shabak”) in cellular-network-based monitoring of the whereabouts of individuals for epidemiological investigations to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Supreme Court ordered the government to cease its current widespread use of cellular-network-based monitoring by March 14, 2021.

The Court’s decision leaves room for the government to use cellular-network-based monitoring for epidemiological investigations only with those individuals who do not cooperate with their epidemiological investigations or individuals who state that they had no contacts at all with others. However, in late March, a majority vote of the Security and Foreign Affairs Committee of the Knesset (the Israeli legislature) decided against the government’s continued use of the Shabak for COVID-19 contact tracing, thereby discontinuing the government’s use for the time being.

Notably, the Court’s majority opinion declined to invalidate the government’s use of Shabak’s counter-terrorism cellular-network-based monitoring capabilities as an unconstitutional violation of privacy. Instead, the court held that the government must use its administrative authority to significantly downscale the use of these monitoring capabilities so that the violation of the right to privacy is reduced. In downscaling the use of these measures, the government must weigh the country’s expanding vaccination and COVID-19 testing operations, the pandemic’s rate of infection, and any other tools available to the government’s efforts in combatting the pandemic.

CLICK HERE to read the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision (in Hebrew).

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