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Israel to use geolocation and ‘counter-terrorism’ surveillance to track coronavirus patients

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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.

Yumna Patel

Yumna Patel is the Palestine correspondent for Mondoweiss.

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One Response

  1. Misterioso on March 15, 2020, 3:45 pm

    Just received from a Canadian friend:

    Off topic, but well worth reading:


    “COVID-19, Brought to You by Globalization

    “How the virus exploits traits of our economy extolled as modern triumphs.

    “This pandemic, with an estimated mortality rate of one to two per cent, is not a world ender or something to be truly feared.

    “But it deserves our respect and it certainly has our attention. Pandemics, which go off like improvised bombs, don’t have to be formidable killers to be bad. Even modest biological detonations can upend your day and alter your world. As SARS-CoV-2 — the respiratory virus that causes the disease COVID-19 — begins its explosive global journey, it has proven its ability to clog hospitals and freeze economies.

    “It is worth remembering that SARS-CoV-2, unlike influenza, is a novel cold-like virus that Homo sapiens have never experienced before. We have no immunity and must acquire it either through exposure to the virus or a vaccine that most likely won’t be ready till the pandemic is over.

    “Recent data from Italy illustrates that COVID-19 can overwhelm even the best health care system in a matter of weeks.

    “In densely populated Lombardy, the centre of Italy’s viral storm, 40 to 50 per cent of those testing positive require hospital admissions for pneumonia or respiratory failure.
    Ten per cent become so seriously ill that they require treatment with ventilators in intensive care units. The median age of patients in intensive care is 65 — that means 50 per cent are under 65 years of age.

    “COVID-19 has also illuminated the fact that Italy has one of Europe’s oldest populations (one in five are over 65) and a lot of smokers, which remains the leading cause of death. Italians, God bless them, are also a social people that hug and kiss a lot.

    “Hospitals in Milan have reached ‘saturation,’ and one is receiving one COVID-19 patient every five minutes.

    “The government has locked down millions of citizens, preventing them from traveling from zones where they live while shutting down all but the most vital businesses. By Thursday, cases in Italy topped 12,000 with more than 1,000 deaths.”

    “SARS-CoV-2 will play with different populations differently, making use of the demographic material at hand along with human follies such as the criminal dearth of testing in the United States for the last month.

    “And it won’t be the last. This particular biological invader springs from an ancient, large and diverse family of viruses hosted by a variety of wild animals, including bats and birds.
    These species are particularly hard pressed by global economic forces now ruinously reducing biological diversity everywhere. As biological biodiversity declines, viruses will seek reliable hosts and jump from animals into people at any given opportunity. Peter Daszak, a pioneering disease ecologist, says we now live in Age of Pandemics.”

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