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Israel approves temporary cellphone tracking of COVID-19 carriers amid surge

by Reuters
Wednesday, 1 July 2020 19:32 GMT

TEL AVIV, July 1 (Reuters) - Israel's parliament voted on Wednesday to allow the country's domestic intelligence agency to track the cellphones of coronavirus carriers for the next three weeks amid a resurgence in new cases.

The Shin Bet surveillance technology has been used on and off to track carriers since March, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet circumvented parliament and approved the program through emergency regulations as cases first spiked.

Those emergency measures drew challenges from privacy watchdog groups, and the Supreme Court cited worries over dangers to individual liberty in demanding Netanyahu's government regulate the surveillance through legislation.

The new law allows the Shin Bet to access carriers' phone location data for 14 days before they were diagnosed. That data is used to identify anyone they came into contact with, which proponents say is crucial to identify new cases.

The law, which expires on July 22, includes oversight mechanisms that require the Shin Bet to report weekly on its monitoring to parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee.

The Shin Bet can be called upon to use the technology when new daily cases exceed 200 -- Tuesday's tally reached 776, a record high -- and to track specific patients who the health ministry cannot otherwise find, the legislation states.

Israel has reimposed some restrictions after seeing a surge in new cases since rolling back curbs enacted as part of a near-complete lockdown in March and April.

But it has not moved to reimpose a nationwide lockdown, with Finance Minister Israel Katz on Wednesday citing the economic pressures of prolonged closure in opposing such a step.

Israel - population 9 million - has reported 321 deaths and over 26,000 coronavirus cases. (Reporting by Rami Ayyub, Editing by William Maclean)

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