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New Report Analyzes Israel’s Regulation of COVID-19 Digital Contact Tracing

After having relative success in curtailing the spread of the novel coronavirus in the first phase of the pandemic, Israel experienced a rise in the number of diagnosed patients, resulting in a second countrywide lockdown. Restrictions have been gradually lifted since the end of October 2020, but the number of cases has been increasing. As of December 2, 2020, the COVID-19 positivity rate was reportedly 2.3%, and the highest number of cases since October 29 was recorded, following the lifting of some restrictions imposed during the second general lockdown.


Isolation area in Tel Hashomer – Shiba (Photo by Israel Preker via the PikiWiki – Israel free image collection project, taken March 8, 2020). Used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/deed.en

Some experts expressed the view that Israel was “on its way to a third lockdown in a month and a half… as the daily number of patients has tripled since the end of the second lockdown.” Researchers at the Hebrew University, however, explained that there was “still a long way to go before a lockdown was needed, and until then control and enforcement in outbreak hotspots should be increased.”

One of the measures used by the Israeli government since the beginning of the pandemic to stop transmission of the virus is contact tracing. Tracing has involved questioning of diagnosed patients by phone or in person, using tracing technology via a voluntary app, and surveillance by the Israel Security Service (ISA) without the consent of those observed. In accordance with a decision of Israel’s Supreme Court rendered on April 26, 2000, the usage of surveillance technology by the ISA for coronavirus patient tracing required legislation. (HC 2109/20 Ben Meir v. Prime Minister.)

Involuntary surveillance for the purpose of COVID-19 contact tracing is now regulated under temporary special legislation (ISA Authorization Law) that defines the scope, procedure, and duration of the activity, while addressing the constitutional challenges associated with it. The ISA Authorization Law will expire on January 20, 2021, unless extended by a legislative act.

The Law Library of Congress report, Israel: Regulation of COVID-19 Digital Contact Tracing, analyzes the ISA Authorization Law’s objective, scope and conditions for implementation. Among other matters, the ISA Authorization Law requires the government to issue a declaration for ISA authorization, prescribe the conditions and duration of such a declaration, and lay out procedures associated with ISA tracing and tracing data preservation, usage, transmission, and erasure. The report includes assessments of the effectiveness of technology-based contact tracing relating to both voluntary apps and ISA surveillance.

Contact tracing by either digital means or by questioning of patients raises challenges for the protection of the right to privacy guaranteed under Israel’s Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and regulated under the Privacy Protection Law 5741- 1981, as amended. A Global Legal Monitor article describes the privacy protection requirements that apply to collecting, using, and preserving data retrieved via contact tracing. We encourage you to review this article as well, for information that may be relevant for the implementation of the ISA Authorization Law.

A comparative law report on Regulating Electronic Means to Fight the Spread of COVID-19, which surveys 23 selected jurisdictions around the globe, is also published on the Law Library of Congress website. For additional information related to legal developments associated with the pandemic, check this blog as well our Global Legal Monitor under “COVID”, “epidemics”, or related terms.

Stay well and safe.

The 400th Anniversary of the Mayflower Compact

This month marks the 400th anniversary of the signing of the Mayflower Compact. Signed on November 21, 1620 (November 11, Old Style), the Mayflower Compact was an agreement that joined the people onboard the Mayflower – the ship that carried the colonists who first settled Plymouth, Massachusetts – in a single self-governing community. People have often […]

United Nations Day – A Time to Reflect on the Potential Role of the International Court of Justice

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Boomer, an international law consultant in the Global Legal Research Directorate. Elizabeth has previously written for In Custodia Legis on Technology & the Law of Corporate Responsibility – The Impact of Blockchain, and the 30th Anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Tomorrow, […]

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This month, the German Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof, BGH)—Germany’s supreme court for civil and criminal cases—is celebrating its 70th anniversary. It was established on October 1, 1950, and immediately started hearing cases as it took over the case files from the German Supreme Court for the British Zone (Oberster Gerichtshof für die Britische Zone, […]

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100 Year Anniversary of the Austrian Constitution

Unlike most countries, Austria does not have just one constitutional document, like the Constitution of the United States for example, but several documents that have constitutional status. Of these documents, the most important one is the Austrian Federal Constitutional Law (Bundes-Verfassungsgesetz). It was adopted by the Constituent National Assembly on October 1, 1920—100 years ago today—and entered into force […]

New Report Examines the Regulation of the Sale of Wild Animals and Their Meat in Markets Around the World

When a novel coronavirus was first reported as having been contracted by people in Wuhan, China, in  December 2019, there was a lot of discussion about the potential source of the virus. On January 12, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement saying that “[t]he evidence is highly suggestive that the outbreak is […]

Join Us on September 24 for a Foreign and Comparative Law Webinar on “Worlds Apart: Legal Responses to COVID-19 in New Zealand and Sweden”

Please join us for the Law Library’s upcoming webinar: “Worlds Apart: Legal Responses to COVID-19 in New Zealand and Sweden” at 2 p.m. EDT on Thursday, September 24, 2020. This webinar is the latest installment in the Law Library’s series of webinars focused on foreign and comparative law. In this webinar, we will discuss and compare the overarching policies and approaches of the two countries, outline the relevant laws, and a look at how the two governments have communicated with the public about the pandemic and the approaches taken.