Israel stops using phone tracking to enforce COVID-19 quarantines

Overseers believe the harm to privacy outweighs the benefits.

Daniel Fainberg via Getty Images

Israel’s use of phone tracking technology to track COVID-19 patients has come to a partial end. A parliamentary oversight committee has halted use of the tracking to enforce quarantines after raising privacy concerns. The privacy violations outweigh the benefits, committee member Ayalet Shaked said — the phone monitoring tech doesn’t help much when police already pay visits to COVID-19 patients to ensure they’re following the rules.

Police have so far argued that the tool is effective, having arrested 203 people with the help of phone location info. Law enforcement conducted about 500 random location checks per day.

The country is still using technology (believed to involve phone tracking) from the national security agency Shin Bet for contact tracing. It can both map previous movements of infected people and pinpoint others who might have come too close. That program appears to be relatively safe, in part as its team deletes all info after a week. However, it’s evident that the Israeli government’s anti-coronavirus efforts have their limits. Like in other countries, Israel may have to strike a balance between total insight into the virus and respecting the desire to maintain some semblance of a private life.