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15 Mar, 2020 01:28

Israel to use ‘anti-terrorism’ tech to monitor infected citizens, as Netanyahu declares ‘war’ on coronavirus

Israel to use ‘anti-terrorism’ tech to monitor infected citizens, as Netanyahu declares ‘war’ on coronavirus

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has said he was given the go-ahead to deploy invasive digital surveillance tools to track coronavirus patients, sparking privacy concerns and fears the move will be used to suppress dissent.

Dubbing the rapidly spreading Covid-19 “an invisible enemy” with which Israel is currently in a state of “war,” Netanyahu said on Sunday that he would ask the government to allow law enforcement to deploy “technologies used in the war against terror” to make sure coronavirus-hit citizens don’t breach quarantine.

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The Israeli Justice Ministry is already on board with the proposal, he said.

Acknowledging that new ‘Big Brother’ measures would constitute an infringement on citizens’ privacy, Netanyahu justified the move by arguing that it was for a greater public good.

There is a certain invasion of the privacy of those people, where we will check who they came in contact with, including while sick, what came before that, what came after

Netanyahu’s militaristic stance on combating the disease has spawned backlash on social media. Netizens argued that with the pending rollout of new Orwellian surveillance measures, Netanyahu is opening “a scary Pandora’s box,” further cementing Israel’s reputation as a “security state.”

Some suggested that an actual reason behind the expansion of the state's surveillance powers was to quell Palestinian resistance against Netanyahu’s government.

“Watch him use it to choke off Palestinians even further and making it impossible for them to enact an effective response,” a commenter tweeted.

Others sounded alarm that the crackdown on privacy on the pretext of fighting the coronavirus could  help “normalize the practice elsewhere.” 

While touting measures to protect Israelis from the coronavirus, Netanyahu did not touch on what the Jewish state is planning to do to stop the spread of the disease in the Palestinian territories it occupies and effectively controls.

“Not a single word about Israel’s actions to protect millions of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation,” ACLU Human Rights Program Director Jamil Dakwar tweeted.

On top of the country deploying tracking software to combat the virus, schools, nurseries and recreational and leisure businesses will shut down on Sunday. Citizens have been asked to work from home, and public gatherings are limited to no more than 10 people.

The Health Ministry revealed on Saturday that 193 Israelis have tested positive for the coronavirus, while nearly 40,000 are in quarantine. 

The closures follow a growing pattern in nations fighting off the coronavirus. Spain, Israel and France have all announced the shutting down of public areas and non-essential businesses. 

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