Israel court gives govt ultimatum on virus phone tracking

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Israel's Supreme Court has given the government until Thursday to initiate legislation authorising the domestic security agency to continue electronic tracking of those infected with coronavirus, or halt the practice.

A court ruling seen by AFP said that the current legal basis for deploying the Shin Bet internal security agency to locate possible breaches of self-quarantine was insufficent.

The decision handed down late Sunday said that "if the state wants to continue to use the Shin Bet after April 30, 2020, it will have to begin a primary legislative process, which must be completed within a few weeks at most".

Last month the government authorised the agency to monitor citizens' mobile phones under emergency powers to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 31 a parliamentary oversight committee endorsed the measure allowing "Shin Bet to help in efforts to halt the spread of coronavirus for a month" until April 30, parliament's foreign affairs and defence committee said in a statement at the time.

An appeal against the measure was lodged with the Supreme Court by rights groups and the country's third largest political alliance, the mainly Arab Joint List.

Israel, which has a population of around nine million, announced its first coronavirus patient on February 21.

Since then it has confirmed more than 15,000 cases of the illness, with 202 fatalities.

Its health ministry says that nearly 7,000 have recovered and been discharged from hospital.