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Israeli High Court orders freeze on tracking of COVID-19 patients

Rights groups and advocates celebrate a win
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Rights groups and advocates celebrated a win this week after Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal intelligence agency, to halt its use of surveillance technology on COVID-19 patients in Israel. 

The decision on Sunday came after Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel filed a petition to the court against the government’s use of cellular geolocation and other “counter-terrorism” technology to track the whereabouts of patients who tested positive for coronavirus. 

The measures, greenlit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March, were criticized immediately by rights groups, who argued that the move constituted a severe violation of privacy and personal freedoms. 

In its petition, Adalah argued that the government did not have the legal authority to monitor and track civilians using Shin Bet surveillance technology. 

The court agreed, adding in its decision that “it is a measure that seriously harms the constitutional right to privacy and should not be taken lightly.”

While the freeze on the tracking of COVID-19 patients will go into effect on Thursday, April 30th, the ruling allows the government to renew its tracking efforts if the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, begins legislating guidelines and regulations on the practice. 

In a statement on Monday, Adalah said they were “satisfied” with the ruling, but were still “gravely concerned about the lengthy number of weeks that the court gave the government and the Knesset to legislate this practice.”

“During this time the Shin Bet is nevertheless being permitted to act without oversight and to wield extensive powers,” the group added.

 “A Supreme Court decision that acknowledges this illegality but nevertheless allows it to continue severely harms the civil rights of all citizens and residents of Israel and has no constitutional basis.”

Israel currently has over 15,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and over 200 deaths. Earlier this week, Israeli Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, an ultra-orthodox politician, announced his resignation after widespread criticism over his handling of the outbreak in Israel. 

Israeli officials have announced a decline in the number of new cases, and an easing on some restrictions on movement and gathering across the country. 

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