Corona hotel or tracking bracelet? Efforts to keep tabs on Israelis raise concerns

The proposal has raised serious concerns about balancing public health needs with democratic principles.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Starting next week, Israelis returning to the Jewish State from abroad won’t have to spend their -two-week mandatory quarantine in a coronavirus hotel – they will also have the option to be fitted with an electronic location-tracking bracelet.

During a Knesset debate in April 2020 on mobile phone tracking of people who test positive for the coronavirus, MK Gadi Yevarkan (Likud) proposed that electronic tracking bracelets could be used to monitor quarantined people.

At the time, Yevarkan’s proposal was dismissed as overreaching.

But on Wednesday evening, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced a pilot program that will track people returning to Israel via an electronic bracelet and mobile phone application.

The bracelet is designed and manufactured by the private Israeli company SuperCom, which has been contracted by the Israeli government to monitor the travelers and inform the government as to whether they are observing the rules.

Currently, just 200 Israelis are allowed to land at Ben Gurion Airport each day, after receiving special permission due to exceptional circumstances. The pilot program would be available to 100 people each day.

Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri said Knesset legislation as early as next week could expand the program to encompass more people.

The proposal has raised serious concerns about balancing public health needs and democratic principles.

Dr. Adam Shinar, a law professor at IDC Herzliya, said that the choice for returning Israelis should not be between isolation in a coronavirus hotel or a tracking bracelet.

“One option is to simply trust people have not left the house,” he told Walla News. “A second option is for people to post bail, and if they are found violating the quarantine, they will have to pay.”

Shinar added that delegating sensitive monitoring of citizens to a private company could lead to complications down the road.

“Privatization transfers the activity from an authority that believes in the public interest to a private company – and that is very problematic,” he said. “In general, I think we should be careful about normalizing new tools or expanding existing tools…Once a tool enters our arsenal, it’s very easy to use it next time.”

Attorney Na’ama Matarasso-Karpel, CEO of watchdog group Israel Privacy, spoke out against the measure. “The state is acting as a security body and not as a state trying to resolve a civilian crisis with civilian tools,” she told Walla! News.

“I see a direct link between the use of the Shin Bet tracking at the beginning of the pandemic, and then, a year later, electronic bracelets to enforce isolation,” she said.

While the program is currently only for Israelis returning from abroad, Matarasso-Karpel warns that “it is impossible to ignore the possibility that this will later apply to [general] quarantine cases who have not returned from abroad.

“Beyond the question of privacy, there is a question of trust in the public here. Do citizens become constantly suspected of violating the law?”

Matarasso-Karpel linked the tracking bracelets to the Knesset bill earlier this week that paves the way for local authorities to obtain the names, phone numbers and other personal addresses of Israeli citizens who have not been vaccinated.

“I think it’s a continuation of that trend of deep intrusion into civilian privacy, done in the name of the coronavirus,” she said.

“There’s some kind of hunger from the state to follow us and gather as much information about us as possible.”