App could replace Shin Bet tracking of COVID-infected citizens

The traffic light app would parallel the ministry’s traffic light rating system for cities.

Israeli soldiers at the IDF Corona Task Force Headquarters as they conduct epidemiological investigations as part of the army's effort to trace chains of infection to curb the spread of coronavirus, Ramle, Israel, September 17, 2020 (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
Israeli soldiers at the IDF Corona Task Force Headquarters as they conduct epidemiological investigations as part of the army's effort to trace chains of infection to curb the spread of coronavirus, Ramle, Israel, September 17, 2020
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Zvi Hauser appeared enthusiastic on Monday about the possibility of replacing the Shin Bet’s (Israel Security Agency) surveillance of coronavirus-infected citizens with a new cell phone application known as “the traffic light.”
According to Health Ministry official Udi Kaliner, part of the sea change to the new app could take place as soon as two weeks from now, while other aspects would require legislation and might be four to six weeks later.
The traffic light app would parallel the ministry’s traffic light rating system for cities. Citizens who voluntarily download it will receive information about the coronavirus traffic light designation of green, red or another status of the area where they are traveling. The app is intended to help citizens internalize the consequences of travel to certain areas where the COVID-19 virus is more prominent.
At the second stage, legislation by the Knesset would be needed because using the app would become obligatory on some level.
Different iterations of what that obligation would be ranged from announcing it as a general obligation without any named enforcement versus blocking persons who do not download it from entering stores and other indoor areas.
Anyone who downloaded the app to enter a particular business would be streaming information to the Health Ministry regarding their location and how long they were in the store.
Kaliner said that the app would not be able to tell how close an individual was to other people within the store (which the Shin Bet’s tracking tool can do), but it would register that they were within the space.
It was unclear how this difference between the two apps might impact on unnecessary quarantines by sending persons into quarantine who were in a store, but who might not have been standing near each other.
The hearing also saw a number of alternatives presented by civil society groups.
For example, Karin On, representing the Israeli Privacy NGO and the Association for the Israeli Internet NGO, advocated using a Google app for tracking which has recently jumped in popularity.
She listed a number of European and other countries who are using the app with greater success than other previously attempted corona tracking apps.
On said that a study of 35 countries supported ending the Shin Bet tracking in favor of the Google app. The study included focusing on countries with similar demographics, geography and other factors in common with Israel.
It appeared clear from the hearing that the Magen 2 (Shield) app, which had been heralded for months as a possible replacement for the Shin Bet option, has been left in the dust heap as a failure.
Various officials also praised local bottom-up efforts at tracking, including local businesses instituting their own tracking for their customers, which some said might be less intimidating to citizens than the idea of some amorphous national agency tracking them.
The FADC is due to meet again on Thursday, and it is likely to extend the Shin Bet program for at least a period of some additional weeks.
The High Court of Justice is due to hear the issue on December 7, and has been putting pressure on the government to limit the use of the Shin Bet tracking to some degree, though not quite rushing in to end the program.


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