Police enforcing quarantine regulations
Police enforcing quarantine regulations Yossi Aloni/Flash90

A broad-ranging survey, the first of its kind to investigate the operation of the digital enforcement of quarantine regulations, has revealed that a large segment of the population has strong objections to being tracked, even for the purpose of protecting public health. The survey’s results were published in the Israel Hayom newspaper.

Following the discovery of a new “variant of concern” of the coronavirus, now named “Omicron,” the government made the decision to permit use of the Shabak for digital tracking of people found to be carrying the new variant – but over half of the people surveyed who are required to be in quarantine responded that they objected to being tracked, many out of concern that it would infringe on their privacy. All the same, the government intends to move forward with its digital tracking program, using the Shabak as well as “another technological device,” unspecified, according to the director-general of the Ministry of Internal Security.

The system developed by the police to verify adherence to quarantine regulations will enable “smart enforcement” of isolation rules, sources say. Those required to be in isolation receive sporadic text messages with a link in them, and upon clicking on the link, they enable GPS monitoring. The police then cross-reference the information provided with the person’s address, or alternatively, the address the person provided where he intends to self-isolate.

The system was first put into operation in September, and between October 18 and 27, the Ministry of Internal Security conducted a survey to rate satisfaction with the system and to gauge its efficacy. 501 people who had been tracked were questioned, using records from the Ministry which were given to a polling agency. The results showed, among other things, that the older the person, the more likely he was to agree to being digitally monitored.

Of those under the age of 24, 43 percent were happy with the idea of revealing their location to trackers; in the 25-34 age group, 46 percent agreed with the concept. In the 35-44 age group, that figure rose to 51 percent, and in the 45-54 age group, 60 percent agreed. In the 55-64 age group, 63 percent of those surveyed agreed with the concept; for those over the age of 65, the corresponding percentage was 66. Taking all age groups together, the average level of satisfaction with the system was just 52 percent.

The survey also divided respondents according to sector: secular, traditional-religious, Arab, and haredi. Among secular respondents, 54 percent agreed to the concept of digital tracking; figures for the traditional-religious and Arab sectors were almost identical, at 55 percent and 53 percent respectively. In the haredi sector, however, just 36 percent expressed their willingness to be digitally tracked.

In general, 20 percent of those polled said they agreed to be tracked – they saw no reason to object. Another approximately 10 percent said they preferred to have police visit them at home to check that they were obeying quarantine guidelines. Another 18 percent of respondents said that they “were not interested in being tracked,” and 11 percent said that in any case they had no intention of breaching the regulations. Another 11 percent gave no reason for their objections, and 10 percent said they had trouble using the technology. 8 percent replied that there was no need for such a form of tracking, and another 8 percent said it was an intrusion on their privacy. 6 percent of those polled said that they hadn’t paid any attention to the text message with the link in it; another 6 percent said that they were worried that other personal data would leak to the police or elsewhere.

40 percent of those polled said they responded to all the messages they were sent by the tracking system; 68 percent of those polled responded to four or more of the messages. In the secular sector, 46 percent of those polled responded to all the text messages they were sent; in the traditional sector, the figure was 42 percent. In the Arab sector, the figure dropped to 39% and in the haredi sector, the figure was just 21 percent.

Commenting on the survey’s results, Tomer Lutan, director-general of the Ministry of Internal Security, said that, “The Ministry is constantly engaged in upgrading the tools it uses to enhance adherence to quarantine regulations. In addition, within the next few weeks, an additional system using video-chat to check up on those in isolation will be implemented.”

Meanwhile, although the government itself has authorized the resumption of tracking using various technological means, the Knesset itself has yet to grant its consent; the legislation will be debated and voted on this Tuesday. Opposition members have already announced that they are willing to support the measure, but will demand in return that all the various members of the coalition also support it.

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