Rights Groups Petition Court Over Omicron Phone Tracking

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -
Travellers seen at Ben Gurion Airport, Monday. (Flash90)

Rights groups petitioned Israel’s top court on Monday to repeal new COVID-19 measures that authorize the country’s domestic intelligence service to use counter-terrorism phone tracking technology to contain the spread of the Omicron virus variant.

Announcing the emergency measures, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the phone tracking would be used to locate carriers of the new and potentially more contagious variant in order to curb its transmission to others.

Israeli rights groups say the emergency measures violate previous High Court rulings over such surveillance, used on-and-off by the country’s Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency since March, 2020.

“Operation of the Secret Service to trace citizens violates the basic trust between the citizen and the government,” the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), one of four groups who petitioned the court, said in a statement.

The Court gave the government until Tuesday to respond to the petition, ACRI said.

A senior health ministry official said on Sunday that use of phone tracking would be “surgical” in nature, only to be utilized on confirmed or suspected carriers of the variant.

The surveillance technology matches virus carriers’ locations against other mobile phones nearby to determine with whom they have come into contact. Israel’s High Court this year limited the scope of its use after civil rights groups mounted challenges over privacy concerns.