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March 17, 2020

Israeli Gov’t Approves Phone-Tracking to Combat Coronavirus, Enforce Quarantine

"The technology is usually only used in counter-terrorism"

By claudia glover

UPDATED March 17 13:45 BST with statement from Israel’s PM.

The Israeli Government has authorised the use of mobile phone data to combat coronavirus by tracking civilians’ whereabouts.

This morning, the Israeli Government unanimously (albeit controversially) agreed to allow its police force to use mobile phone location data to track infected citizens, as reported by Tel Aviv-based news site Haaretz.

To implement this, Shin Bet (Israeli Security Service) will be permitted to use advanced technology usually only used in counter-terrorism and won unanimous approval from the Israeli government to do so without a court order.

For now, the data will be used to warn the public or a specific person of possible infection, and to enforce quarantine orders.

What Does This Mean For Israeli Citizens?

According to a senior Israeli technology source, the resources that will now be afforded to the Israeli police will be data from monitoring calls, motion and predictive analytics in text and on social media.

Officials can then use this data to detect patterns in speech on social media and in text to flag suspicious behaviour, such as breaking quarantine, or leaving their phone idle for hours too long, hinting at leaving their phone behind.

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These tip offs would then trigger a visit from the police to investigate.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Nentanyahu said: “The Cabinet discussed this yesterday for six hours. I, and all the ministers, sought to ensure that there would be strict oversight of these means in order to ensure that they would not be abused.

“The Attorney General acceded to our request and this evening we will approve the use of digital tools for a limited period of 30 days. Israel is a democracy. We must preserve the balance between individual rights and general needs, and we are doing so

Iran Also Use Phone-Data to Combat Coronavirus

This decree comes after an action by the Iranian Ministry earlier this month. It released a coronavirus symptom tracker via text, that was collecting more data than it advertised.

The coronavirus app was collecting sensitive information including civilians’ real-time geolocation details. The researcher who uncovered the other uses for the app used a mobile threat intelligence platform called, created by security software development company Avast.

Google has now taken down the app from its Play Store as it violates their terms and conditions.

Taiwan Utilised Big Data Analytics

Taiwan has also used cellphone tracking, as well as big data analytics, to defend itself against the virus, according to a report released earlier this month by the Journal of the American Medial Association (JAMA).

Officials used data from its national insurance database and integrated it with their immigration and customs database, individuals’ travel histories and clinical symptoms, to help to identify cases.

Their authorities then sent a health declaration border pass via text if they were low risk,  if someone was high risk, their phone was tracked, to ensure they remained in quarantine. Taiwan had 67 confirmed cases as of  16 March, according to the Singapore based Straits Times.

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