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Israeli Supreme Court Strikes Down Gov’t Use of Mass Mobile Network Geolocation to Fight Pandemic Proliferation

Firm News / Apr 30, 2020

Article written by Haim Ravia, Dotan Hammer and Adi Shoval

Tracking the whereabouts of individuals may be necessary to combat the Coronavirus pandemic emergency, but the means utilized by the Israeli government severely impact the right to privacy, and must be approved through primary legislation by the Israeli Knesset, rather than merely by emergency regulations promulgated by the government – says the Supreme Court of Israel, in a decision to invalidate these emergency regulations by April 30, 2020. The Israeli Knesset then extended the emergency regulations until May 5th, to allow the government to consider primary legislation.

The Supreme court’s decision also held that special protective arrangements must be implemented to preserve the freedom of the press to protect journalism sources. Thus, the whereabouts of journalists who tested positive for coronavirus should be disclosed only subject to their consent.

The Supreme Court’s decision was delivered on a petition by the journalists’ organization, the Israeli civil rights association, and others demanding to repeal the emergency regulations authorizing the Israeli National Security Agency to track Israeli residents to support the fight against the spread of the coronavirus. Throughout oral arguments and written briefs, the Israeli authorities revealed how the Ministry of Health uses geolocation tracking in the fight against pandemic proliferation.

After an individual is tested positive for Coronavirus, the Ministry of Health asks the Israeli National Security Agency to track the individual’s epidemiological route in the preceding 14 days, to identify the people they were in proximity to and the possible source of infection. To this end, the Ministry of Health discloses the individual’s full name, phone number, national ID number, and the date the individual was tested positive, to the Israeli National Security Agency. By querying mobile network subscriber geolocation data with a 14-day lookback, the Agency then identifies the people that were in proximity to the individual, including their names, phone numbers, national ID numbers, date of birth, and date and location of exposure. Those individuals then receive a text message informing them that they have been exposed to the Coronavirus and are required to self-quarantine.

The Agency and the Ministry of Health indicated that access to such information is restricted to a limited number of people, on a need-to-know basis. Their number is in the dozens.

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

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