In late November, Israel resumed contact tracing activities by the Israel Security Agency (ISA, also known as Shabak or Shin Bet) to track carriers of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. Five days later, he halted ISA’s contact tracing activities, due to a lack of parliamentary support. This is not Israel’s first target drift exercise, where invasive intelligence measures are used for civilian matters. More than 11 months during the coronavirus pandemic, Israel has used the ISA’s “tool” for contact tracing purposes.
The tool is a large database operated by the ISA into which all Israeli communications metadata has been siphoned off for nearly two decades. Under Israel’s ISA law, licensed telecommunications providers are required to provide the ISA with all non-content communication data that the Prime Minister deems necessary. Although the statutory provisions which provide the legal basis for the operation of the Tool are publicly available, the Israeli public learned of the tool’s existence only as a result of its controversial use for contact tracing in 2020, from a briefing in a major Israeli newspaper.
The tool relies on cell phone location data streamed from telecommunications providers to the ISA. Unlike contact tracing apps, which require users to own and actively install a smartphone, ISA contact tracing measures are taken without consent and their reach extends to all cellular devices, including models. basic without the advanced features of smartphones.
When the tool is used for tracking the whereabouts of coronavirus carriers and people with whom they have been in close contact, the ISA receives the identification details of the carrier of the virus from the Department of Health. The ISA then returns the carrier’s whereabouts data for the 14 days prior to the diagnosis and identifying data of people with whom the carrier has been in close contact during that time, along with the time and place of contact.
During the first and second waves of the coronavirus pandemic in Israel, the clearance of the ISA target slide was gradual. The first cases of use of the tool by the ISA around March 8, 2020, for contact tracing, were without any legal basis, as the State of Israel comptroller later determined. Only a week later, the government issued emergency regulation authorizing ISA contact tracing activities. These were later replaced by a government resolution under ISA, which is subject to the approval of the Parliamentary Subcommittee for the Secret Service. Under an Israeli High Court of Justice decision at the end of April 2020, the government embedded on the drafting of a statutory law, which was promulgated in July 2020. After a technical extension of its sunset provisions, the law expired in July 2021.
These goal creep clearance dynamics were nearly replicated for carriers of the omicron variant. In the days following the first reports variant, the Israeli government has responded by tightening travel restrictions and issuing emergency regulations allowing the ISA to engage in tracking the whereabouts of carriers of the omicron variant.
Omicron’s emergency regulations, later described by government officials as an interim “bridging loan” authorizing ISA activities when drafting and passing statutory law, reflect a change in the operational understanding of the tool. Previously, the Tool was seen as a replacement for human epidemiological investigators. Under the provisions of the now-expired law of July 2020, the ISA was only allowed to perform location tracking when the daily number of new coronavirus carriers exceeded 200. However, under emergency regulations of omicron, such a threshold of new carriers did not exist. . The government now views the tool as an additional measure that allows epidemiological investigators to address memory and knowledge gaps of carriers in an attempt to nip the spread of a new variant in the bud.
The omicron emergency settlement was limited to carriers of the new variant and to people who, according to laboratory tests, could be carriers of the omicron variant, rather than carriers of the coronavirus as a whole. The ISA was authorized to provide the Ministry of Health with data relating to the seven days preceding the diagnosis, rather than the two-week deadline set by the authorization law from July 2020. The emergency regulations were to be issued. expire in five days.
Apart from these provisions, the omicron emergency regulation appears identical to the authorization law of July 2020, and it provides for a data transfer scheme between the ISA and the Ministry of Health identical to that of the previous law. The regulation also contains similar provisions regarding the retention of contact tracing data by the ISA and the Ministry of Health, as well as their confidentiality and limitation of access. Under omicron emergency regulations, as was ISA policy throughout the first waves of coronavirus, the ISA is not authorized to monitor or enforce quarantines related to the coronavirus nor to s ” engage directly with wearers of the omicron variant or those with whom they have been in close contact.
Less than a day after their promulgation, the emergency regulations were challenged by several non-governmental organizations in the High Court of Justice. The petitioners argued that, according to existing ISA case law on coronavirus tracking, the ISA cannot authorize location measurements through emergency regulations, but must instead do so through emergency regulations. ” a parliamentary review process – either through limited scrutiny by the Secret Service subcommittee of a government resolution or through a full legislative legislative legislative process. The court rejected these arguments, ruling that under the current circumstances of a short expiration period and narrow scope of the regulations, and given the uncertainty surrounding the threat of the new variant, the regulations of emergency may be in effect for a period of five days while law legislation is encouraged. In response to the applicants’ arguments regarding the limited effectiveness of the tracking tool, the tribunal relied on classified data presented to it ex parte, as well as the limited temporal and personal scope of the regulations of emergency, and determined that the omicron emergency regulations are proportional.
The court issued its decision on the last day of the omicron emergency regulations coming into effect. Later in the day, the government announcement that he would not extend the regulation further. While the government presented this decision as guided by professional considerations, it appears that a training bipartite group Knesset members opposing ISA surveillance of the coronavirus succeeded in dissuading the government from moving forward with the bill allowing the ISA to engage in tracking the whereabouts of carriers of the omicron variant, thereby reducing the bridging loan contracted by the government when it promulgated the emergency regulations.
In the omega variant war game exercise Conducted just weeks before the appearance of the omicron variant, the Israeli government tested its ability to handle an outbreak of a new variant of the coronavirus. The ISA tool was used in this exercise. Thus, its use to counter the threat of an omicron epidemic did not improvise at the last minute, as it may have been during the first wave of the coronavirus.
The Israeli government’s willingness to reinstate the use of an invasive counterterrorism measure for civilian purposes, time and again, raises concerns about the continued and long-term drift of surveillance technologies originally intended for national security purposes. For example, earlier this year the government introduced a bill to allow police use of license plate recognition systems, which lays the groundwork for future use of facial recognition measures (including application for national security purposes in the occupied territories is contested) by law enforcement authorities.
Moreover, despite the change in the operational objective of the Tool, the continued reliance on it as an out-of-the-box solution hinders the development of alternative privacy-conscious civil measures and overlooks the lessons of the previous one. ISA contact tracing series. One of those lessons is that the tool suffers from inaccuracies in certain circumstances, which can make it technically unsuitable for contact tracing tasks.
The end result of this ISA coronavirus location tracking series is a reminder that privacy issues are indeed bipartisan. The High Court of Justice ruling in this petition can be interpreted as allowing the government to issue more time-limited emergency regulations allowing the ISA to help contain the spread of future variants. However, these cases will require limited time and a close, targeted scope of surveillance to justify using the Tool for purposes beyond the statutory objectives of the ISA. Perhaps an additional burden of proof will be required in light of the omicron bridging loan case, where no parliamentary support was found for legal legislation allowing ISA contact tracing.