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Israel's top court halts controversial coronavirus phone tracking over privacy concerns Open in fullscreen

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Israel's top court halts controversial coronavirus phone tracking over privacy concerns

Rights groups petitioned the Supreme Court over privacy fears [Getty]

Date of publication: 27 April, 2020

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Israel's top court has ordered lawmakers to enshrine the Covid-19 phone tracking in legislation.
Israel's Shin Bet domestic security agency has been ordered to halt its use of mobile phone tracking in the fight against the spread of the novel coronavirus amid privacy fears.

The Supreme Court ruled on Sunday that lawmakers in the Knesset must regulate its use through new legislation, Reuters reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month approved the Shin Bet's use of phone tracking methods traditionally associated with counter-terrorism operations in an emergency decree circumventing parliament.

The technology has been used to track coronavirus patients and alert residents who may have been in their vicinity.

The Supreme Court said the government must begin legislation on the matter by April 30 and complete it within a few weeks if it wants to continue using the phone tracking data. 

"The state's choice to use its preventative security service for monitoring those who wish it no harm, without their consent, raises great difficulties and a suitable alternative, compatible with the principles of privacy, must be found," the court said on Sunday.

Israel's top court also ruled that the government must seek permission to track the phones of journalists infected with Covid-19, citing freedom of the press. 

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz expressed concern of the ruling, saying that the tracking data had enabled the country to "gradually lift the lockdown, giving Israel's citizens back their freedom of movement and occupation".

Israel has reported more than 15,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, including a relatively low death toll of 202 as of Sunday.

Some businesses were allowed to reopen on Sunday as part of a gradual lifting of restrictions.

Netanyahu will on Monday begin discussions about the gradual reopening of schools, a statement said.

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