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Israel to Track Coronavirus Using Cellphone Data

Data from millions of cellphone customers will be used to locate and alert individuals who may have come into contact with people carrying the virus.
March 24, 2020, 7am PDT | Camille Fink
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Daria Nepriakhina

"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has authorized the country’s internal security agency to tap into a vast and previously undisclosed trove of cellphone data to retrace the movements of people who have contracted the coronavirus and identify others who should be quarantined because their paths crossed," report David M. Halbfinger, Isabel Kershner, and Ronen Bergman.

The plan is to use geolocation data from cellphones to identify people who may have been exposed to the virus and send text messages telling them to isolate themselves. The data is regularly collected for counterterrorism purposes, but using it for public health efforts is new.

Halbfinger, Kershner, and Bergman go into more detail about the political situation in Israel and the debate around privacy concerns. "It is the existence of the cellphone metadata trove and its use to track coronavirus patients and carriers that privacy advocates say poses the greatest test of Israeli democracy at an extraordinarily fragile moment," they say.

[Update: new reports reveal that cellphone companies in numerous countries around the world are sharing data with health officials. See articles published by the The Verge and Reuters for more.]

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Published on Monday, March 16, 2020 in The New York Times
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