Israel’s tracking of coronavirus carriers is out unless Knesset makes it a law, Supreme Court rules

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JERUSALEM (JTA) — Cellphone tracking of confirmed carriers of coronavirus in Israel can only continue if the Knesset initiates legislation to allow it, the nation’s Supreme Court ruled.

A three-judge panel on Sunday said the government could extend the practice for the next few weeks as long as it introduces legislation this week and takes action on it.

The ruling came in response to petitions filed against the practice by rights groups who say that it infringes on civil liberties and personal freedom.

The Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet, for nearly two months has been using cellphone and credit card data to retroactively track the movement of people who test positive for the coronavirus. The aim is to find where the infected person had been and who he or she came into contact with in order to stem the spread of the virus.

The law allowing the practice should have an end date, the court said, saying that “effort must be made to find another suitable alternative that fulfills the principles of privacy protection.”

In mid-March, the Israeli government passed emergency regulations to allow security services to track the cellphones of coronavirus patients. Attorney General Avichai Mandelbilt had approved the move.

In late March, the Supreme Court lifted an injunction against the practice and agreed to allow the surveillance by the Israel Security Agency after the Knesset convened and formed committees that would allow for oversight. The justices then also said that if the parliament does not introduce legislation in the coming weeks allowing such surveillance, it would again place an injunction on the practice.

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