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In an unprecedented move in Israel, cellular monitoring of potential coronavirus patients will be implemented in order to assure that they are not breaking their quarantine conditions and find out who they were in contact with. For the first time, Israel will apply an extensive cellular location of citizens not within the context of a terror investigation. The move reflects measures taken by Taiwan, which succeeded in coping with the virus spread.
The intent is to apply far-reaching rules so far restricted to counter-terror warfare for cyber-surveillance.
“When under unique circumstances, the authorities are given an extremely powerful tool, an agency should be defined as responsible for the enforcement of the rules and directions in order to prevent the misuse of the information,” said Avi Yariv, a cyber, intelligence, and HLS expert, iHLS co-founder, and the Chairman of the iHLS InnoTech Expo Tel-Aviv that will be held in November 2020.
According to Yariv, the measure declared by Prime Minister Netanyahu reflects a major issue: “Proportionality – this is the most important aspect in the conflict between the State’s desire to govern and supply more security to the public and the right to privacy. On the one hand stands the public pressure and its willingness to confirm more and more invasive capabilities for the sake of its security, but on the other hand – the right to privacy is the right of each and every citizen, making the difference between democracy and other types of regimes.”
He added that the tension between those two poles should be considered from several aspects – technology, privacy, rules and regulation, and public atmosphere. “Israel is a democracy that respects the right to privacy, but as a country coping constantly with threats it needs the capabilities to reach information. Still, we have to be precautions not to reach the situation of government totalitarianism.”
According to a ynet.co.il report, the use of the General Security Services’ technological capabilities has been considered, although the organization stressed that “there is no intent to use the aforementioned capabilities for the purposes of enforcement or monitoring to the quarantine directions.” It was also reported that the Mossad has offered its advanced cyber arm for the purpose of producing location and detection software for the Ministry of Health.
Yariv explains that these agencies conduct self-enforcement procedures, similar to the ones conducted by the Police, however, it will be difficult to enforce the application of external control.
What is exactly the meaning of using digital measures for detection? Prof. Isaac Ben Israel, Head of the Yuval Ne’eman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security and Head of the Tel-Aviv University Cyber Research Center, also serving as Chairman of the Israeli Space Agency in the Ministry of Science, Technology and Space, told iHLS: “The most simple way is the use of the mobile phone’s location function in order to make sure that people supposed to be at home quarantine do not leave the premises. The same location function can also be used in order to reverse track the course of the suspected coronavirus carrier. This is, of course, a more invasive option from the privacy point of view. There exist more invasive “big brother” practices in order to locate all the people who contacted him recently and might be virus carriers as well.”
What can be done to restrict privacy infringement as much as possible? According to Avi Yariv, “information compartmentalization is extremely essential. In order to cope with the danger emanating from the authorities’ possession of too strong tools there should be compartmentalization among the various entities authorized to see the information, use it, and enforce the law on its basis.”
“There is a grey zone that one should be very careful not to cross into, when law enforcement agencies looking for evidence might use the tools supplied for the coronavirus detection, thus allowing the filtering of information into unauthorized areas. This possibility explains the fear that it might not be possible to reverse the situation.”
Yariv stressed that similar to what happened to the Israel biometric and the Elector databases, the new database that will be created regarding coronavirus patients could also be breached. This is the reason why the securing the data is essential.
The digital measures conducted in Taiwan were minimal ones in the detection capabilities arsenal: the use of location function (as some kind of electronic handcuffs). Watch this video comparing Taiwan’s measures with the ones carried out in China:
Interested in learning about ground-breaking cyber technologies? Attend i-HLS’ InnoTech Expo in Tel Aviv – Israel’s largest innovation, HLS, and cyber technologies expo – on November 18-19, 2020 at Expo Tel Aviv, Pavilion 2.