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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Israel Halts Controversial Tech To Track Omicron Variant

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(AP) — Israel said Thursday it was halting the use of a controversial phone tracking technology to trace possible cases of the new coronavirus variant.

Earlier this week, the government approved travel restrictions and authorized the country’s internal security agency to use the phone monitoring technology for contact tracing people infected by the omicron variant in Israel.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said in a statement that emergency measures authorizing “cellular monitoring” of people who are infected by omicron, and those who might have been in contact with those cases, would expire at midnight.

The decision to reverse course on the Shin Bet’s tracking came after the Cabinet approved the practice under an emergency measure on Tuesday. A government ombudsman had spoken out against implementing the technology, arguing that it was ineffective.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said on Twitter that “from the beginning I noted that use of this tool would be limited and brief — for a few days, in order to get urgent information to halt infection with the new, unknown variant.”

He said that “alongside protecting health, we must protect privacy and human rights, even in a time of emergency.”

Israeli rights groups had decried the use of the technology, which can track where a person has been and whom he has met, as a violation of privacy rights. The Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that its use be limited.

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