Knesset blocks police from getting addresses without court order

“The goal now is to free up the stranglehold on the market… we need to adapt into a corona routine and to return to regular life.”

An empty Knesset Plenum  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
An empty Knesset Plenum
The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Wednesday blocked the police from obtaining special coronavirus-related authority to be given addresses of people in quarantine without a court order. It was the first major setback for law-enforcement authorities during the crisis.
Until Wednesday afternoon, the committee, chaired by Gabi Ashkenazi (Blue and White), generally would tweak coronavirus-related law-enforcement bills but then endorse them.
Having the police check compliance by visiting people’s homes was not worth the harm to their privacy, committee member Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) said.
“The goal now is to free up the stranglehold on the market… we need to adapt into a corona routine and to return to regular life,” she said.
Freezing the bill did not end the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) remote surveillance program that enables it to determine trends about whether citizens are observing quarantines based on the location of their cellphones.
Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov was challenged at the committee hearing, which has been rare to see in public while he has dominated state policy on the coronavirus issue for around six weeks.
With the state under control of the situation and the number of citizens on respirators dropping, there was no reason to be as draconian and strict, Ashkenazi said.
The broader issues that affect the economy and privacy rights were over Bar Siman Tov’s head, and he should relinquish control over them, committee member Moshe Ya’alon (Yesh Atid-Telem) said.
Bar Siman Tov and law enforcement were only giving a partial picture to try to justify their policies, and unless the situation suddenly deteriorated again, they needed to back down from imposing overly tough rules on the country, committee member Yoav Segolovitz (Yesh Atid-Telem) said.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which has led much of the push for protecting privacy rights, praised the committee’s decision.
Bar Siman Tov warned there was no way to predict how the situation might deteriorate in the future during a coronavirus second wave.
On Sunday, Ashkenazi said the picture presented by police indicates they are only visiting about 1% of those in quarantine due to the coronavirus.
The police portrayed the issue as a narrow program limited to this period and in which they only use home addresses for coronavirus-related enforcement.
There had already been concerns about the idea that law enforcement could use coronavirus as a way to get addresses of people for other suspected crimes where they would normally need a court-issued warrant.
These issues were raised on Monday when civilian groups weighed in on the police’s proposed amendment to the criminal enforcement law, which would significantly increase police enforcement powers.  
Discussing the importance of the amendment, Police Ch.-Supt. and Technology Director Aya Gorsky on Sunday told the committee that from March 26 to April 18, the police had used technological means to pinpoint the location of 7,228 citizens who were supposed to be quarantined.
The police were checking the location of some 500 persons per day at this point, she said.
Regarding 6,308 citizens who were found to be in quarantine, their address and personal information was erased from the system, Gorsky said.
However, regarding the 920 citizens, or 12.7%, who were violating their quarantine based on technologically checking where their cellphone was, the police have started to track them with physical checks, she said.
Some citizens were located and issued warnings without a fine if they immediately returned to their quarantine location, Gorsky said.
Other citizens were in quarantine but had decided to change their quarantine location without updating the Health Ministry as required, she added.