Rights groups are expressing concern over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest effort to tackle the coronavirus outbreak in the country; this time using surveillance and “counter-terrorism” technology.
Netanyahu made the announcement on Saturday following a series of measures enacted by the government to effectively shut the country down as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 soared to over 200.
According to Israeli media, Netanyahu plans on using “cellular geolocation”, among other forms of surveillance, to track the whereabouts of patients who have tested positive for the virus and ensure they do not violate quarantine orders.
Haaretz reported Netanyahu as describing the coronavirus as an “invisible enemy,” and promising to use “all means… including technological means, digital means, and other means that until today I have refrained from using among the civilian population” to stop the virus’ spread.
While Netanyahu quickly got the support of the Attorney General, Justice Ministry, and the Shin Bet (Israel’s internal intelligence agency), rights groups said the move raises major concerns around privacy and violations of personal freedoms.
“Monitoring and tracking people 24 hours a day, 7 days a week — their location, calls, camera and headsets — under the pretext of preventing the transmission and spread of infection, is a violation of people’s right to privacy,” 7amleh – The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media said in a statement.
The group warned that Israeli could be committing “mass violations of digital rights”, and urged that “any monitoring be done in a way that will ensure that people’s rights are respected and that Israel uphold its obligations to ensure the protection of people’s digital and human rights.”
Due to the sensitivity of health data, 7amleh urged the appropriate authorities to “strictly adhere to a legal basis for these activities and work to ensure that privacy is respected and that the least amount of information is collected to minimize exposure.”
7ameh highlighted the fact that Israel has long been violating the rights of Palestinians across the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip through the use of digital surveillance, all under the pretext of “counter terrorism” and “security” measures.
“This shows how oppressive policies and practices developed and used in contexts of occupation, also end up being used by the occupying power against its own citizens,” the group said.
Since the first coronavirus case was detected in Israel three weeks ago, the number has climbed to 213, with at least two in serious condition and 11 in moderate condition, according to the Israeli Ministry of Health.
Over the past few weeks, the country has shut down schools, universities, banned public gatherings and meetings of more than 10 people, shuttered all cafes and restaurants, and temporarily closed off holy sites like the Al Aqsa Mosque compound.
Last week, Israel enforced a 14-day quarantine rule on every person entering the country, Israeli and foreign nationals included.
Israel has also closed its borders with the West Bank city of Bethlehem, where 37 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed so far.